This article is sponsored by The Center for Innovative GYN Care
Seventy to 80 percent of American women will develop uterine fibroids by age 50. That number goes up to 90 percent for African-American women, who also suffer from more severe symptoms, and often start at an earlier age.
Fibroids Affect African-American Women Disproportionately
Even with an already high rate of occurrence, African-American women are two to three times more likely to have recurring fibroids or suffer from complications from them. A 2012 study by Harris Interactive feature on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website concluded:
“Multiple lines of evidence suggest that uterine fibroids have a disproportional effect on African-American women. African-American women have a higher cumulative risk of uterine fibroids, a threefold greater incidence and relative risk of fibroids, and an earlier age of onset…In addition, African-American women are 2.4 times more likely to undergo hysterectomy and have a 6.8-fold increase of undergoing uterine-sparing myomectomy. At the time of hysterectomy, African-American women have higher uterine weights, more fibroids, a higher likelihood of preoperative anemia, and more severe pelvic pain.”
Extensive research is needed about why fibroids develop in the first place, why African-American women get them more frequently and with more severity than other races, and how they affect fertility.
Facts About Fibroids
These benign tumors grow in the uterus, or off of the uterus on stalks within the pelvic cavity. Many women never know they have them until caught on a routine exam, and for many of those, they may never affect daily life. However, those who are unlucky enough to suffer through some of the more severe symptoms of fibroids (pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, bleeding for longer than 7 days, large clots, pain in the legs or back, pain having sex) are at a higher risk of infertility if left untreated.
Fibroids themselves are not seen as life threatening, as they are non-cancerous. However, the resulting symptoms can be extremely dangerous. Women have suffered from anemia, often requiring blood transfusions or iron infusions. Fibroids can grow so large that they cause restriction of urine flow from the kidneys to the bladder, and can cause kidney damage, or create restriction of blood flow by blocking arteries in the pelvis, which can result in life-threatening blood clots in the legs. Babies are lost to miscarriages, born prematurely, or are never conceived. The more severe symptoms of fibroids are responsible for missed days at work or social engagements, and strained relationships as the extreme bleeding and severe pelvic pain that can occur with fibroids is debilitating.
According to the NIH, fibroids and other common gynecological conditions represent an important health concern due to the large number of women affected. Yet, the reality is very little research has been successful in determining the cause of these tumors, or to clearly document their prevalence in a way that encourages medical professionals to expand their understanding of the condition, or adopt advanced minimally invasive surgical treatments.
The effects of medical treatments with hormones, or life-style changes are short-lived. Women who believe that fibroids will go away with menopause are surprised to find that while they may shrink a little, if the fibroid has grown large (more than 250 grams), the fibroid can still cause problems well into and past menopause, with the tumor hardening. Few specialists are able to remove these fibroids thoroughly without performing invasive open procedures, leaving women in a position of having to choose to be out of work for 6-8 weeks with painful recoveries, or put off having surgery while the fibroid or fibroids continue to grow.
The Watch and Wait Method Is Out of Date
“If they aren’t bothering you, you don’t need to do anything about them.” This phrase is frequently uttered to fibroid patients in exam rooms, but it minimizes the risks. Women are left thinking that they don’t need to treat them until or unless there is a problem, but by the time they become a problem, many doctors are only able to remove them through invasive, open procedures, frequently recommending hysterectomy over myomectomy (fibroid removal).
Not every woman with fibroids experiences the same thing, so many gynecologists are conservative in their approach to managing them, not wanting to subject women to painful surgery.
That conservative thinking is often a reflection of the type of surgery for which the physician is trained, and it is outdated, as new advancements in treating fibroids can be performed with smaller incisions, in minimally invasive outpatient procedures, with women returning to work in 2 weeks or less. It is essential that the medical community is current on all treatment methods, their short and long-term side effects, and that they are informing patients of all of their options.
Currently, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Georgia and the city of New Orleans have passed resolutions making July Fibroid Awareness Month. Led by The White Dress Project, these efforts continue to expand July as Fibroid Awareness Month throughout the United States.
CIGC is dedicated to providing information and materials for women to help navigate the complicated healthcare system. CIGC minimally invasive GYN surgical specialists Dr. Paul MacKoul, MD and Dr. Natalya Danilyants, MD developed their advanced GYN surgical techniques using only two small incisions with patients’ well-being in mind. Dr. Rupen Baxi, MD is a CIGC-trained minimally invasive GYN specialist with extensive fellowship training and a respected speaker and researcher. Book a consultation at The Center for Innovative GYN Care or call 888-787-4379.