Uterine fibroids are almost always benign growths made of the same smooth muscular tissue of the uterus (the myometrium). When those muscle cells grow abnormally, they can form into a firm rubbery mass that protrudes from surrounding tissue. You can have single or multiple fibroids. They can grow slowly, quickly or remain the same size. Fibroids can even shrink on their own. They can also range in size, from a tiny seed to a large mass the size of a grapefruit! And they can grow in different places in your uterus; hence their various names, like pedunculated, submucosal, intramural and subserosal fibroids.*
Fortunately, uterine fibroids rarely, if ever, develop into cancer1—and in many cases, they can be easily removed by your doctor.
* The MyoSure system is not indicated for the removal of intramural and subserosal fibroids.
Your doctor will use a combination of tools to determine whether or not you have uterine fibroids. First—a pelvic exam. This exam can provide a tremendous amount of information, allowing your doctor to assess the size, shape and condition of your uterus. Your doctor may also conduct lab tests to rule out any other more serious causes of your abnormal bleeding.
He or she may also prescribe any one of the following tests—none of which involves surgery:
Ultrasound – Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to generate images of the internal structure of the uterus. To perform the test, your doctor or a technician will place an ultrasound probe on your abdomen and move it around. He or she may decide to insert the probe inside your vagina (a transvaginal ultrasound), which can provide even clearer images since the probe will be closer to the uterus.
Diagnostic hysteroscopy – Your doctor will insert a small camera and light into your uterus through your vagina, allowing him or her to actually "see" inside to determine if there is anything abnormal in your uterus.
Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) – Your doctor will inject an X-ray dye into your uterus and take images using an X-ray machine. This test may be recommended if you're having difficulty getting pregnant. In addition to revealing fibroids, it can help determine if your fallopian tubes are open.
Sonohysterogram – Your doctor injects water into the uterus and uses ultrasound technology to expand the uterine cavity, making it easier to capture images. It can also be useful for women whose ultrasound results were normal, yet continue to have heavy menstrual bleeding.
Pelvic Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – With this type of test, you lie still in an MRI machine, while the system uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of your uterus, ovaries and other pelvic organs. An MRI can show the location and size of fibroids, identifying the types of growths.
Many women with uterine fibroids don't even know they have them. But some women may experience symptoms associated with their fibroids. Some are minor, most are not. Here are some of the troublesome—and in many cases, serious—issues caused by uterine fibroids:2
- Heavy menstrual bleeding that can cause pain and even include blood clots.
- Feeling of fullness in your pelvic region and swelling or enlargement of the abdomen.
- Pelvic or lower back pain.
- Increased menstrual cramping.
- Increased urination caused by the fibroid pressing on your bladder.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Complications during pregnancy and labor.
There is no definitive cause of uterine fibroids or a specific reason why they grow or shrink. However, medical experts agree that fibroids need female hormones—estrogen and progesterone—in order to grow. That's why they grow rapidly during pregnancy, when hormone levels are high. Conversely, when hormone levels are low or when your doctor prescribes an anti-hormone medication, they often shrink. And once you reach menopause, your fibroids tend to stop growing, shrink—or disappear altogether.
In addition to fluctuating estrogen levels, there are other factors that can increase your risk of developing uterine fibroids, including:
- Age - Uterine fibroids become more common as you age, especially during your 30s and 40s and right up until menopause. After you go through menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
- Family history - Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If your mother had uterine fibroids, your risk is about three times higher than average.
- Ethnic origin – Approximately 80 percent of African American women, and 70 percent of Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian women, develop uterine fibroids by the time they are 50.3
- Obesity - Women who are overweight are at higher risk for uterine fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.
- Eating habits - Eating a lot of red meat, like beef or hamburger, and ham is linked to increasing your risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to help protect women from developing fibroids.
Once you understand what you're dealing with when it comes to fibroids, it's much easier to take action! Here are some important facts you need to know:
- Fibroids are almost always benign growths: They are not associated with an increase in uterine cancer and rarely become cancerous. However, there is a type of rare cancer sometimes mistaken for a uterine fibroid called leiomyosarcoma. It has been found in just 1 of every 1,000 women who have had fibroid surgery.4
- Most fibroids don't cause infertility. Just one type of fibroid (the submucosal type that bulges into the uterine cavity) has been found to interfere with a woman's ability to become pregnant.5
- Fibroids won't harm your fetus. The vast majority of women who are pregnant and have fibroids go on to have healthy, full-term babies.6
- Low risk of a C-section. In rare situations, fibroids may be in or near the cervical opening, thus blocking the baby's passage. This could increase the likelihood of a Cesarean section, but again, typically only if the fibroids are growing in a location that blocks the birth canal.7
- No treatment needed for most women. Most women with fibroids require no treatment at all; however, if you're concerned or have symptoms, be sure to have the growth of your fibroids monitored by a gynecological exam every three to six months. If your fibroids become very large and bothersome, or if they cause medical problems, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.8
- Less need for major abdominal surgery. If your intrauterine fibroids are located at least 50% inside your uterine cavity, there's a good chance you'll be able to avoid major surgery, thanks to the advent of such innovative technologies as the MyoSure procedure. That means less chance of needing your fibroids removed either by a laparoscopic myomectomy or by undergoing a total hysterectomy, in which the entire uterus is removed.9
- Fact sheet from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, http://www.asrm.org/FACTSHEET_Fibroids_and_Fertility/
- Today Health and Wellness, Can fibroids hurt your pregnancy? http://www.today.com/health/can-fibroids-hurt-your-pregnancy-t72486
- Data on file, Hologic, Inc.