Fibroid facts: up to 70 percent of women will have uterine fibroids

Published: Jul. 9, 2018 at 5:29 PM EDT
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Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that develop inside a woman’s uterus, and up to 70 percent of all women will have uterine fibroids in their lifetime.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes these mysterious growths.

Here are some fibroid facts you might not know.

Fibroids can cause no symptoms at all, or they can cause problems like heavy menstrual cycles, pain and more.

Just ask Venita Gowdy, a mother of three.

“My son is 6 years old, so I thought I was done carrying diaper bags, but I was actually carrying one for myself,” she says.

“They can compress on the bladder and make it so that women feel like they have to urinate more frequently," explains A.J. Gunn, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "Sometimes they can push behind and push up against the colon, so it will make it sometimes hard for people to have bowel movements.”

Another fact: Fibroids themselves aren’t cancerous, but they can cause symptoms very similar to a cancer called uterine sarcoma.

A biopsy can tell doctors if you have this cancer.

Some more good news: Women with fibroids can still get pregnant.

Experts estimate fibroids only cause one to two percent of infertility cases, but fibroids are linked to a six times greater risk of needing a C-section delivery.

Another fibroid fact: They’re the leading cause of hysterectomies. More than 200,000 hysterectomies are performed each year in the U.S. because of uterine fibroids, and African American women are two to three times more likely to get them.

Several medical therapies are now available as alternatives to a hysterectomy. These include hormone treatments, ultrasound therapy, ablation therapy or a myomectomy, which removes the fibroids while leaving the uterus alone.


REPORT #2548

BACKGROUND: Fibroids are benign, non-cancerous tumors. Uterine fibroids can have similar symptoms to a rare form of cancer called uterine sarcoma. Unfortunately, scientists don’t have a reliable way to detect sarcoma except when they are doing surgery to remove fibroids. One study found that between 70 to 80 percent of all women will get fibroids by the age of 50. More than 200,000 hysterectomies, the surgical removal of the uterus, are performed each year for uterine fibroids in the United States. Along with making you infertile, the procedure also carries its own risks, so doctors only recommend it when the fibroids are extremely painful or have not responded to other methods. Most women with fibroids have issue-free pregnancies, but they can cause some complications. Some research suggests that certain types of uterine fibroids can change the size and shape of the uterus, which can impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant, though experts estimate fibroids cause only one to two percent of infertility cases. Fibroids are also linked to a six-time greater risk of needing to deliver via c-section and a risk of heavier bleeding after delivery.


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT: Uterine fibroids are frequently found incidentally during a routine pelvic exam. Your doctor may feel irregularities in the shape of your uterus, suggesting the presence of fibroids and may order an ultrasound or lab tests. Ultrasound uses sound waves to get a picture of your uterus to confirm the diagnosis and to map and measure fibroids. A doctor or technician moves the ultrasound device over your abdomen or places it inside your vagina to get images of your uterus. If you have abnormal menstrual bleeding, your doctor may order other tests to investigate potential causes. These might include a complete blood count to determine if you have anemia because of chronic blood loss and other blood tests to rule out bleeding disorders or thyroid problems. There's no single best approach to uterine fibroid treatment. However, several options exist. Many women with uterine fibroids experience no signs or symptoms, or only mildly annoying signs and symptoms that they can live with. If that's the case, watchful waiting could be the best option. Medications for uterine fibroids target hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle, treating symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure. They don't eliminate fibroids, but may shrink them.


NEW TREATMENT TO REPLACE SURGERY: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted Allergan’s new drug application (NDA) of the investigational drug, ulipristal acetate, for the treatment of abnormal bleeding in women with uterine fibroids. “Currently approved treatment options for uterine fibroids are mostly surgical, and these surgeries can take weeks to recover from,” said Ayman Al-Hendy, MD, director of interdisciplinary translational research, Augusta University in Georgia, and member of Allergan’s advisory board. “That is why ulipristal acetate is a valuable option for treating uterine fibroids. For the first time, doctors and patients will have access to an oral treatment option to manage symptoms. We are optimistic that with a new oral treatment option, fewer women will suffer in silence and leave their uterine fibroids untreated.” The once-a-day pill is to be consumed for 3 months, then stopped for 1 menstrual cycle to allow the endometrium to shed. Ulipristal acetate appears to have fewer side effects than the injectable Lupron, the only medication available to shrink fibroids. Side effects such as headaches and hot flashes affected less than 10 percent of women in recent trials.