Do you suffer from longer, heavier periods, bloating and abdominal pain?
If you have fibroids, you’re not alone. Uterine fibroids are the most common pelvic tumor found in women. In fact, 75% of women will have them at some point in their lives, but not everyone will develop symptoms or require treatment.
Wait, did you say tumor?
When you hear the word “tumor,” it can be a little frightening. Tumors are typically associated with the c-word: cancer. But they most often aren’t connected with cancer.
“Fibroids, also known as leiomyomas, are common benign (non-cancerous) masses that arise from the smooth muscle cells of the uterus,” said Nichole Mahnert, MD, an OBGYN at the Women’s Institute at Banner Health in Arizona. “They look like firm white balls, and you can find them on the inside or outside of the uterus or within the walls of the uterus.”
They can affect women of any race, but they are especially more common in African American women. “Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to have symptomatic fibroids and are more often diagnosed at an earlier age,” Dr. Mahnert said. “There is likely a genetic component related to fibroids as well.”
What’s going on down there?
Unbeknownst to you, you may have fibroids and not even realize you do until you have a pelvic ultrasound. Since most women won’t experience any symptoms, it can be easy to overlook the severity of this condition. But for women who unfortunately experience symptoms, they often have to make drastic lifestyle changes to deal with them. It can even lead to feelings of isolation and shame.
Symptoms may include:
- Longer, heavier periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Bloating or “feeling full” sensation
- Pain during sex
- Frequent bathroom breaks or an inability to pee
- Fertility issues
If you are suffering from these symptoms, it could be fibroid-related, but it’s best to check with your doctor.
“Most women realize they have fibroids when they see their doctor for symptoms like heavy or irregular periods, pressure and pain,” Dr. Mahnert said. “They may undergo a physical exam or imaging—such as an ultrasound or MRI, which can more clearly identify the fibroids.”
Get these things out of me!
Since fibroids don’t always cause symptoms, they don’t always require treatment. However, if symptoms are disrupting your life, treatment typically involves treating the specific symptoms versus removing the fibroids.
“Treatment of fibroids ranges from medications like hormones similar to birth control pills, medications to control bleeding or injections to shrink fibroids (although this only lasts a short time),” Dr. Mahnert said. “Nonsurgical procedures include fibroid or uterine embolization, a method that blocks blood vessels that go to the fibroid to decrease blood supply. This is performed by an interventional radiologist.”
Sometimes it may be necessary to remove the fibroids if they are causing fertility issues. If this is the case, your doctor can perform a myomectomy, or surgery to get rid of the fibroids while keeping the uterus intact.
If you’re done having children, you can also have a hysterectomy to remove your uterus entirely.
“There are a number of techniques that can be used to perform myomectomies and hysterectomies, so make sure you find a surgeon trained in performing minimally invasive surgery to remove fibroids,” Dr. Mahnert said. “Minimally-invasive surgery includes laparoscopy and robotic assistance and is important to keep your incisions small in order to recover faster, have less pain and fewer surgical complications.”
What happens if it the tumors are cancerous?
Overall, fibroids are benign, but there is a group of rare uterine cancers called fibroid sarcoma, or leiomyosarcomas, which typically affect older women. Dr. Mahnert emphasized how important it is to continue with regular doctor visits to monitor fibroids for changes.
Don’t suffer alone
If you’re experiencing symptoms of uterine fibroids, consult with your OBGYN or family doctor.
Heavy and painful periods are not normal and there are treatment options available.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.