What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors or lumps made of muscle cells that grow within the wall of or on the outside of the uterus. Fibroids may grow as a single tumor or in clusters and vary in size, from the size of an apple seed to a grapefruit and occasionally even larger.
Symptoms of uterine fibroids
Many women don’t feel any symptoms, but some do, including:
- Heavy bleeding or painful periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Feeling of fullness or pressure in the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination (from the fibroid pressing on the bladder)
- Pain during sex
- Lower back pain
- Reproductive problems, such as infertility or miscarriage
What causes uterine fibroids?
Genetics, hormones and a woman’s general health play a role in the development of fibroids. Fibroids usually occur in women of childbearing age and decrease in size after menopause because they are linked to hormone levels in the body. African-American women and women with a family history of fibroids are more likely to develop them, as are obese women and those who eat a lot of red meat and ham. Women who have given birth are at a lower risk.
Do uterine fibroids lead to cancer?
Uterine fibroids are not cancerous and are not associated with cancer. They rarely develop into cancer (fewer than 0.1 percent of cases). Fibroids do not increase the risk for developing uterine cancer.
Do uterine fibroids ever go away?
In most cases, fibroids stop growing or shrink once a woman goes through menopause. But this is not the case for all women.
Diagnosing uterine fibroids
Unless you have symptoms, you probably won’t know you have a fibroid. A fibroid may be found during a routine gynecologic exam. If your health care provider thinks you may have a fibroid, he or she may order a diagnostic imaging test, such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a CT (computed tomography) scan.
If you are diagnosed with a fibroid but have no symptoms, you may not need any treatment. Your health care provider will check during your annual gynecologic exams to see if the fibroid has grown.
- Pain medication
For occasional pain or mild symptoms, your health care provider may suggest either over-the-counter or prescription pain medication.
- Hormone therapy
Because fibroids rely on hormones to grow, your health care provider may prescribe birth control pills or other hormone therapy, which stops fibroids from growing and may help control heavy bleeding. This type of therapy provides only temporary relief. Once hormones are stopped, the fibroids often grow back. However, when you reach menopause and your body stops producing hormones, you can stop taking medication and the fibroid may naturally decrease in size.
For women experiencing more severe symptoms, surgery may be the best option. Several procedures are available, including a traditional operation through an abdominal incision (this is considered major surgery with a lengthy recovery period) or minimally invasive procedures performed through a few tiny incisions with quicker recovery time (this is called laparoscopic surgery or may be performed with the da Vinci robotic surgical system). Your physician will determine which procedure is recommended for you depending on the size and location of the fibroids, your age, symptoms, or if you want to become pregnant in the future.
Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) is one of the more well-known treatment options for fibroids, but it is not the only treatment option. Hysterectomy is the only sure way fibroids cannot come back. A hysterectomy may be performed abdominally or laparoscopically.
Myomectomy is a procedure that removes fibroids while sparing healthy uterine tissue. This is a desirable option for women who want to have children or who want to keep their uterus. Since the uterus remains, new fibroids can still develop after myomectomy. Myomectomy is performed laparoscopically..
Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE)
This procedure is done through a tiny incision in which a tube is threaded into the blood vessels that supply the fibroids. The tube delivers particles that block the vessels, which cause the fibroids to shrink. This procedure is for women with severe symptoms who do not want a hysterectomy and do not want children afterward. UFE is performed by an interventional radiologist using imaging equipment.
For more information
You don’t have to live with the pain and heavy bleeding caused by fibroids. Norton Women’s Pavilion offers a variety of treatment options to get you back to living life pain free. Talk with your OB/GYN about treatment options that may be right for you. If you do not have an OB/GYN, call Norton Healthcare’s free physician referral service at (502) 629-1234.