Uterine Fibroids: What Women Should Know
May 28, 2021 Rosanna Turner
Uterine fibroids are a common women's health problem, but many women don't even realize they have them.
"Up to 80% of women will have a fibroid by the time they reach menopause," says Dr. Kelly Wright, associate professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai. "However, the awareness of uterine fibroids is pretty low."
What are uterine fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) tumors that can grow in and around the uterus. Uterine fibroids are most common in women in their 30s, 40s and through menopause, but can occur at any age.
Dr. Wright says that uterine fibroids are the number one reason why women undergo hysterectomies in the U.S.
"Uterine fibroids is one of the most common diagnosis we see," Dr. Wright says. "By the time I see a patient, they might have really large fibroids or are bleeding so much that they are anemic."
"Uterine fibroids are a huge quality of life issue for a lot of women. Some women are told that their symptoms are normal and to just deal with it, like they're told about menopause."
What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids?
Symptoms of uterine fibroids include heavy bleeding during menstruation, pain in the abdomen or lower back, constipation and difficulty urinating or frequent urination.
In women, the symptoms of uterine fibroids might be misdiagnosed, overlooked or ignored.
Cedars-Sinai patient Jen Lange, age 51, was diagnosed with uterine fibroids in August 2020.
Prior to her diagnosis, Jen had gained weight and says she felt something hard in her stomach, but she was unaware that the cause might be a benign tumor growing in her uterus.
"I didn't have any of the common symptoms of fibroids, like blood loss or heavy periods," Jen says. "I thought I had digestive issues, so my symptoms were diagnosed as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The dots weren't connected."
Treatment for uterine fibroids
Some women with uterine fibroids may not have any symptoms at all. But for those who do, the impact on their health and wellbeing can be significant.
"Uterine fibroids are a huge quality of life issue for a lot of women," says Dr. Wright. "Some women are told that their symptoms are normal and to just deal with it, like they're told about menopause."
However, there are treatment options for uterine fibroids, which include medication and surgery.
"Women who have had a large tumor removed through surgery, they often say to me, 'I didn't know I could feel this much better,'" Dr. Wright says.
Raising awareness about uterine fibroids
After an ultrasound revealed that Jen had a large fibroid growing in her uterus, she was referred to Dr. Wright for surgery.
In order to remove the tumor fully, Dr. Wright performed a hysterectomy. Once removed, the fibroid weighed about six pounds.
"I wish I had known about fibroids years ago," Jen says. "If I had been diagnosed sooner, the tumor would have been smaller and I could have had a less-invasive surgery."
Along with raising awareness about uterine fibroids in general, Dr. Wright says that there needs to be more education on the minimally invasive options available to women to treat fibroids.
Making treatment options available to all women
Statistically, Black women are more likely to develop uterine fibroids than white women.
"There's data showing that Black women, in particular, are more often offered hysterectomies to treat fibroids, rather than less-invasive procedures," Dr. Wright says.
"Minimally invasive options should be available to all women, and not recommended based on their race or ethnicity."
Spreading the word
Since having surgery to remove her fibroid in November of last year, Jen says that she feels a lot better and no longer has any digestive issues.
"Having a fibroid felt like being six months pregnant," Jen says. "Now that the tumor isn't sitting on my bladder anymore, I've seen a huge improvement in my day-to-day life."
Following her experience with uterine fibroids, Jen says that she's since spoken with other women her age who have had fibroids or undergone a hysterectomy.
"I've noticed that some women don't want to talk about their hysterectomy. It's not a common thing to share," Jen says.
"I have a daughter who's 13, and I think her generation is better about being open and talking about their bodies. Hopefully we see that trend continue."
When to see a specialist for uterine fibroids
If you are having symptoms of uterine fibroids that are affecting your quality of life, Dr. Wright encourages you to consult a specialist.
"Even if a doctor says that what you're experiencing is normal, I recommend seeking a second opinion to get comprehensive treatment options," Dr. Wright says.