Over 35 million women in the United States currently suffer from uterine fibroids, noncancerous growths of the uterus. Women who do have uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas or myomas) often find fibroids difficult to live with, as they cause many symptoms related to pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. Over 25 percent of women will experience significant symptoms and suffering as a result of their fibroids. At Acessa Health, we developed and offer the Acessa Procedure with the Acessa ProVu system as a way to treat uterine fibroids as a minimally-invasive option that spares a woman’s uterus. Before you talk to your doctor and figure out which fibroids treatment option is best for you, it’s best to learn exactly what might be happening to your body because of fibroids. At Acessa Health, we want to arm you with knowledge about uterine fibroids and symptoms and signs of uterine fibroids. There are a lot of wonderful overviews about uterine fibroids we’d recommend to get a broad idea about what they mean for everyone, but we also want to start considering what they mean for your body.
When determining your best course of action for uterine fibroids, determine the presence of fibroids is the obvious first step. While fibroids are common, many won’t experience symptoms immediately or severe enough to even know they exist. Many women will think one of the many symptoms they experience are unrelated to fibroids, especially some of the less severe (but not life-altering) ones. There are many kinds of symptoms which are caused by the many different ways your body experiences fibroids. Fibroids come in various sizes and shapes and can be found in various places inside and around the uterus. The most common are submucosal (attached to the inner part of the uterus), subserosal (pushing out from uterus, often onto the bladder) and intramural (in the uterine wall) fibroids. Some women will also have a type of subserosal fibroid called pedunculated fibroids that attaches to the uterus with a stem.
Uterine fibroids vary within the body and over time. While some may shrink, others enlarge and change in size and density sporadically, causing even more pain. Even if fibroids go away on their own or are surgically removed via myomectomy, they often return in the uterus and can even multiply.
While most fibroids are benign, noncancerous growths, that does not mean they are without symptoms, many of which are persistent and painful. Symptoms can run from bulges and lumps in your abdomen to frequent urination and constipation to long, heavy periods and constant pelvic pain. These symptoms can be frustrating, exhausting, painful, and life-altering. Every woman deserves to be without any uterine fibroids and their debilitating symptoms.
With all the possibilities of what fibroids can do to your body and their effect on organs, hormones, and regular, we want to present the most common symptoms for uterine fibroids.
Uterine Fibroids Symptoms
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Periods lasting more than a week
- Regular spotting between periods
- Constant pelvic pressure or pain
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Difficulty urinating
- Back and leg pain
- Painful intercourse
- Bulges or lumps in the lower abdomen
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
This is often the first sign of uterine fibroids. As the fibroids grow, they affect the uterine wall and cause heavy bleeding. Blockages and obstruction can also cause bleeding to be thicker or heavier than usual.
- Periods lasting more than a week
Likely caused by estrogen and progesterone, hormones connected to the uterus that may affect fibroid growth, fibroids will cause your period to last much longer than other women without fibroids, often lasting ten days or more. This is usually not a one-off experience; women have known their periods to last longer indefinitely, until fibroids are properly treated. Longer lasting periods can also cause anemia, or an iron deficiency, and cause lightheadedness and fatigue.
- Regular spotting between periods
As fibroids cause increased uterine bleeding during your periods, the same changes to the uterine wall cause sporadic and unplanned spotting at random times.
- Frequent urge to urinate
Uterine fibroids, especially subserosal fibroids attached to the outside of the uterus, will push against other organs and body parts as they expand to fill the space inside your body. One of those organs closest to your uterus is your bladder. This pushing on the bladder causes an urge and need to urinate much more frequently than women without symptomatic uterine fibroids.
- Difficulty urinating
While you might need to urinate more frequently, fibroids can often contract and pinch the bladder, making it harder to actually urinate once you feel the urge to go.
Similarly, growing fibroids in certain locations can also push against your rectum and cause issues with regular and painful constipation.
- Back and leg pain
Beyond general pain and cramping that comes along with your period, fibroids can also create unrelated soreness and aches along your lower back and down into your legs. While this can sometimes be the result of fibroids pushing against your spine, it can also be a sign that a fibroid might be dying on its inside (though still growing outwardly).
- Painful intercourse
Uterine pressure caused by growth of the fibroids can cause general uncomfortable sensations, pangs, and tenderness during sex, while growth near or in the cervix can lead to sharper pain and additional bleeding.
- Bulges or lumps in the lower abdomen
Often the most outwardly noticeable symptom of fibroids, especially larger and multiple fibroids is the bulking of the lower abdomen, usually right above the pelvic bone. This is caused by growth inside and outside of the uterus.
Risks and Factors of Uterine Fibroids
Research shows that 70 to 80 percent of women will develop uterine fibroids before the age of 50. While knowing the symptoms is helpful to diagnose and treat your fibroids, the below factors will often affect your risk for developing them or the severity of your symptoms:
Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s and throughout menopause. After menopause, fibroids tend to shrink.
Women who hit puberty and have their first period before ten years old have been shown to have a greater chance of developing fibroids over their life.
- Family Genetics
A woman who has a mother who experienced fibroids is almost three times more likely to have uterine fibroids herself. Other family histories of fibroids can show a genetic proclivity towards your likelihood as well.
- Race and Ethnicity
African-American women are three times more likely to develop fibroids than women of other races. Hispanic women have shown lower rates and propensity towards uterine fibroids when compared to other races.
Weight affects the risk for fibroids, with research showing that overweight women are at higher risk for fibroids. For women with very high BMIs that extend into the “obese” range, the risk can be three times as high as other women.
While each and every one of these uterine fibroid symptoms by themselves could be explained by a number of different issues, having more than one could likely mean you need to discuss treatment with your doctor. Exploring all the symptoms to uterine fibroids can be helpful in knowing what might be happening to your body.. At Acessa Health, we want to help you understand your risk and options, so we want to offer our own Uterine Fibroids Symptoms Quiz.
After reading this blog, you might be asking “I have to urinate more often. Does that mean I have fibroids?” While you may, fibroids are often expressed in a constellation of symptoms and experiences. We hope our quiz can help you explore what your next steps are, even if you’ve already been diagnosed with uterine fibroids. The Acessa Procedure is a quick, proven, and minimally-invasive fibroid treatment option that will spare your uterus, unlike a hysterectomy.
The Acessa Procedure | Treatment for Your Uterine FIbroids
Your uterine fibroid symptoms may vary and as such might require a wide array of treatment options. We’ve put together dozens of scientific papers and helped publish research about uterine fibroids treatment out there and the efficacy of what’s available. For some, medication can shrink fibroids and provide enough relief of pain and frustration. Some doctors will recommend myomectomy, uterine artery embolization (UAE), partial hysterectomy, or hysterectomy as more aggressive ways to treat fibroids, though recent studies have demonstrated that women with fibroids are up to six times more likely to undergo an unnecessary hysterectomy. Research is showing that uterus-conserving treatment is on the rise as more and better options are available.
For that reason, the Acessa Procedure offers women with uterine fibroids symptoms a minimally invasive, outpatient treatment for most types and sizes of fibroids. It uses laparoscopic radiofrequency ablation to destroy fibroids by applying controlled energy through a small needle array. The destroyed fibroid tissue will then be reabsorbed without harming the surrounding healthy uterine tissue.
No matter your symptoms and severity, it’s best to educate yourself when you have fibroids with all the treatment options available. Plan a visit with the Acessa physician nearest you right now to learn more about your symptoms, treatment options and what you can do next to say ”Goodbye fibroids!”
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My grandmother knew something was wrong. My mom went through the same thing and ended up having a hysterectomy. I was only 29 when I was diagnosed and hysterectomy was not an option I wanted to consider. First, I tried major surgery instead. Not only was it painful and the recovery time was long, but the fibroids grew back. So the next time around, I got the Acessa Procedure for fibroids. I was back on my feet in a matter of days after my Acessa procedure with Dr. Jessica Shepherd, and have never felt better. I have the best period of my life, it only lasts 5 days! The Acessa Procedure was life-changing for me.
Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids
It’s very important for women to take charge of their own health and know exactly what is going with their bodies. However, many women suffer in silence with uterine fibroids.
Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, explains that uterine fibroids (myomas or leiomyomas) are tumors within the uterus that are the most common benign tumor of the pelvis. Fibroids can be various sizes that can range from the size of a grape to the size of a cantaloupe. In addition, they are also the leading indication for hysterectomies in the USA, where roughly 600,000 of these surgeries are performed per year. According to Dr. Shepherd, “there are so many other options for fibroids that as a physician, I feel it is my responsibility to counsel women. I have met so many women in their journey with fibroids that need reassurance and also a broader discussion on what they can do.”
Uterine fibroids have been show to impact between 70% and 80% of women before the age of 50 with severe symptoms occurring up to 30% of these patients. Symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pressure and pain, painful intercourse and abdominal bloating depending on size and location of each fibroid. Fibroids can also affect fertility and in women who have fertility issues due to fibroids, they need options that will preserve the uterus so they can have pregnancies in the future.
Healthcare providers are able to offer various treatment options to address the symptoms that are presented from medical therapies, to minimally invasive gynecological procedures, such as the Acessa Procedure, up to and including major surgeries. The most important part of treating fibroids is that every patient’s journey is different, and every patient is looking for different outcomes. The results of treatments can vary depending on the age of the woman, severity of symptoms, the reproductive desire of the patient and the duration of their symptoms. In light of International Women’s Day, Dr. Shepherd is committed to #pressforprogress, and offer her patients the most comprehensive treatment options available.
The incidence of fibroids in the United States is 2-3 times higher in black women than white women, with their likelihood of developing the benign uterine tumors estimated at 80% and 70%, respectively. Researchers have spent several decades investigating this racial disparity, and they continue to seek answers, as the phenomenon has not yet been fully explained. However, certain epidemiological links have been established through the research, yielding information that could help reduce the incidence of this all-too-common condition among black women – provided they are aware of it. Hair relaxers are an example.
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, researchers investigating the racial bias of uterine fibroids hypothesized that endocrine-disrupting chemicals in hair relaxers could impact a woman’s risk of developing the condition. They found evidence to support this hypothesis in surveys amassed by a large-scale U.S. cohort study, The Black Women’s Health Study. The surveys, collected from 59,000 premenopausal African-American participants, asked questions about the use of chemical hair straighteners, including: age of first use, frequency of use, number of scalp burns experienced, and type of formula(s) used.
Of the women surveyed in The Black Women’s Health Study, 94% reported having used hair relaxers for at least 1 year. Of all the participants, researchers observed that women who used hair relaxers were 1.17 times more likely to have uterine fibroids than those who did not use hair relaxers. Almost a third of the women who reported using hair relaxers did so on a frequent basis, at a rate of 7 or more times per year. With this group, the incidence of fibroids increased to 1.23 times that of women who do not use hair relaxers. Research determined that the womens’ age at first hair relaxer treatment and the type of relaxer they used (lye vs. no-lye) did not impact the incidence of fibroids; however, both duration of hair relaxer use and the number of burns experienced were positively correlated with the occurrence of fibroids.
Hair relaxers contain a variety of toxic chemicals: lye-based relaxers contain sodium hydroxide; “no-lye” relaxers contain calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate; “thio” relaxers contain thioglycolic acid salts; and almost all varieties contain endocrine-disrupting phthalates, which often appear on a label as “fragrance” or “perfume”. All types – including the “no-lye” relaxers – have been known to cause burns and lesions on the scalp (despite advertising claims to the contrary), and such injury facilitates the entry of the chemicals into the body.
Phthalates, a group of hormonally-active compounds, can be absorbed topically (through the skin) or through inhalation. Studies have shown that certain phthalates have an estrogenic effect on cells. Fibroid tumors are estrogen-dependent, so chemicals like phthalates that disrupt the body’s natural estrogen production can potentially spur the development of fibroids.
Since cosmetic products are not subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers are not required to disclose all of a product’s ingredients on the label. Thus, while endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates are ubiquitous in cosmetic products, their presence may not be readily evident. There are, however, certain indicators that point to the presence of phthalates. In a 2011 study, the research team of Wise et al. noted:
Because the vast majority of hair relaxers list ‘fragrance’ as an ingredient, and 100% of popular fragrances tested in a 2002 study were found to contain phthalates, most hair relaxers likely contain these chemicals. In addition, some hair relaxer products directly list phthalates as one of their chemical ingredients. (Wise et al. 2012)
Of course, phthalates are not the only endocrine-disrupting substance that black women – or consumers, in general – encounter on the day-to-day: chemicals known for their reproductive toxicity appear in products all around us, and without knowledge of their presence, consumers will continue to be subjected to the detrimental effects of those chemicals.
That said, the link between hair relaxers and increased fibroid risk is a significant discovery, both because it could partially explain the racial bias of uterine fibroids and because it serves as actionable information that enables women to moderate their exposure to the toxins that could contribute to the growth of fibroids. With this knowledge, women can make an informed decision about whether the potential cost of hair straightening treatments simply outweighs the beauty benefits.
>> SEE ALSO: What Causes Fibroids: The Known Risk Factors
Wise, L. et al. “Hair Relaxer Use and Risk of Uterine Leiomyomata”, American Journal of Epidemiology. 2012; 175(5):432-440
“New Study Finds Exposure to Toxic Phthalates in Decline; Consumer Demand for Safe Cosmetics a Factor”, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Jan 15, 2014 . Online. http://www.safecosmetics.org/about-us/media/press-releases/new-study-finds-exposure-to-toxic-phthalates-in-decline-consumer-demand-for-safe-cosmetics-a-factor/#sthash.YhCKOLu2.dpuf
More than a decade ago, researchers identified a connection between a meat-heavy diet (specifically, the consumption of ham and beef) and uterine fibroids. The same study, published in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, produced evidence that diets heavy in green vegetables reduced the risk of developing fibroids. Since that time, numerous studies have sought to further explain the connection between diet and fibroid risk. Unfortunately, that research has yielded few answers, and the connection remains largely misunderstood and widely debated.
Foods Impacting Fibroid Growth
While no causal links have been established, there are clear themes emerging from study data. Multiple studies have correlated increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products with reduced risk of developing fibroids. A study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Epidemiology was one such study. The research team of Wise et al. followed trends in the dietary intake of more than 22,000 premenopausal black women from the US Black Women’s Health Study over a 10-year period. Self-reported data from questionnaires gave the researchers insight into participants’ intake of dairy foods – including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream – and nutritional components of dairy – like calcium, vitamin D, and butyric acid. The collected data revealed a connection between higher dairy consumption and a lowered risk of uterine fibroids. The researchers theorize that calcium and butyric acid (present in milk fat) inhibit the proliferation of cells that would otherwise form the benign pelvic tumors.
In a separate research effort, Wise et al. used the diet questionnaires collected from a cohort of participants in the Black Women’s Health Study to gather evidence regarding the link between fibroid risk and the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and carotenoids. In the December 2011 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers reported finding a reduced risk of uterine fibroids among the women with higher levels of fruit and retinol in their diets. These findings build upon those reported more than a decade ago by Chiaffarino and colleagues, who determined that a high intake of green vegetables has a protective effect against fibroids.
Margaret Wertheim, MS, RD, LDN, a Chicago-based dietitian, sees the same value in green vegetables. She advises her clients with fibroids to increase their intake of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and kale. “This group of vegetables, in particular, contains indole-3-carbinol,” she explains, “which research has suggested may prevent estrogen-driven tumors due to its effect on estrogen metabolism.”
While research has drawn attention to the protective effects of foods like dairy consumption and green vegetables, it has also revealed a heightened risk of fibroids associated with the consumption of meat products. Women whose daily diets include meats like beef and ham are – according to the research – more likely to develop fibroids than women who consume a strictly vegetarian diet.
Some research, including a 2010 study by Di and colleagues, has suggested that certain phytoestrogens found in soybeans, called isoflavones, may inhibit the growth of estrogen-dependent uterine fibroids. Contradictory evidence was produced by Radin et al, however, when they examined the soy intake of a subpopulation from the aforementioned U.S. Black Women’s Health Study and found no connection between soy consumption and uterine fibroid risk.
Fibroid growth is fueled by estrogen. Thus, in theory, any chemicals or nutrients that affect the body’s estrogen levels will impact fibroids in some way. Growth hormones in non-organic beef and phytoestrogens in soy are simple examples, but other potentially problematic substances are those that indirectly impact the body’s hormonal balance. For example, Wertheim recommends that women with fibroids watch their caffeine and alcohol intake. Both caffeine and alcohol stress the liver, which can make the liver work less effectively at metabolizing estrogen in the body. “With fibroids,” she explains, “you want to support the health of the liver by getting rid of alcohol and caffeine so it may optimally metabolize circulating estrogen.”
Finally, the role of vitamin D in affecting fibroid growth has been a subject of recent interest. A study published in a 2011 issue of Fertility and Sterility reported that vitamin D inhibits the growth of cells involved in uterine fibroid growth. The data produced by the researcher team of Sharan et al. suggested that low levels of vitamin D may be a risk factor for their developing fibroids.
Diet Modification: Does It Help?
Though certain dietary connections may seem clear, the implications of dietary modification for treating existing fibroids certainly aren’t. Bala Bhagavath, MD, an endocrinologist at the Center for Reproduction & Infertility at Women & Infants Hospital in Rhode Island, explains the limitations of the existing data in a 2012 article from Today’s Dietitian. He points out that the studies that have been conducted are all observational in nature; no interventional studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of diet modification as a treatment strategy. “It’s not known if modification of diet in women with established uterine fibroids will result in resolution of these tumors,” he says. “Even if they do, the length of time this dietary modification has to be maintained has to be established. It’s possible that dietary modification may decrease the incidence of fibroids in women at high risk for developing them. However, even this question of prevention remains unanswered at this time.”
Based on what we know (and don’t know!) about the fibroids-diet connection, it’s unrealistic to expect that dietary changes alone can eliminate and/or prevent fibroids. However, the knowledge that has been uncovered regarding dietary risk factors can be useful in guiding nutritional strategies that will support a broader treatment protocol. Simply understanding the impact – direct or indirect – that certain vitamins and nutrients have on fibroid growth enables women with symptomatic fibroids to make better dietary choices, avoiding foods that could worsen their condition, and possibly enhancing the effectiveness of other medical treatments as a result.
Stewart, E. “Uterine Fibroids”, New England Journal of Medicine. 2015; 372: 1646-55
Chiaffarino et al. “Diet and uterine myomas”, Obstetrics & Gynecology. 1999; 94(3): 395-398
Tempest, M. “Uterine Fibroids and Nutrition — Studies Suggest Healthful Dietary Modifications May Cut Risk and Ease Symptoms” Today’s Dietitian. May 2012; 14(5): 40
Levy, B., “Modern management of uterine fibroids”, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica. April 2008; 87: 812-823
Wise, et al. “A prospective study of dairy intake and risk of uterine leiomyomata”, American Journal of Epidemiology. 2010; 171(2): 221-232
Fibroids hurt. The pain isn’t just physical: the psychological toll that comes with symptomatic fibroids is profound. In a 2014 study on the emotional impact of fibroids, researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine surveyed 48 women who had diagnosed, symptomatic uterine fibroids. The researchers found that the majority of those women had a “significant emotional response to their fibroids, ranging from general worry and concern to fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression”. More than half of the study’s participants reported feeling as though they had no control over their fibroids, mostly due to the difficulty of managing and predicting the heavy menstrual flow that is characteristic of the condition. The majority felt disempowered and possessed a “negative self-image”. The women also frequently expressed “concern over appearing pregnant, overweight, and less attractive”. Many of them expressed that the insecurities made intimacy with a partner difficult.
Despite both the physical and emotional suffering that the condition engenders, the prevailing attitude among women with fibroids seems to be that the condition is one to simply be endured. They resign themselves to “toughing it out”. Why would they voluntarily suffer? The answer partly lies in the woman’s perception of normalcy surrounding her experience with fibroids, according to researchers. M.S. Ghant et al. discovered in their 2014 study that many of the women they surveyed had delayed seeking a diagnosis for their heavy menstrual bleeding because they believed what they were experiencing was essentially a normal burden of womanhood. Even after receiving a diagnosis of fibroids, the researchers reported, many did not seek treatment: instead, they frequently minimized their suffering and “expressed that they were ‘just dealing’ with their fibroids”.
Fear about invasive treatments and the consequences of procedures like hysterectomy are clearly major deterrents for many fibroid sufferers who would otherwise seek treatment. Fortunately, new, outpatient treatment options like the Acessa Procedure offer women with fibroids alternatives to hysterectomy and invasive surgery. Evidence suggests that treating fibroids through a minimally invasive procedure of this nature leads to improved quality of life and psychological wellbeing.
A 2013 study by Guido et al. examined the impact of fibroid treatment via radiofrequency volumetric thermal ablation (also known as Acessa Procedure) on various aspects of patient’s wellbeing. Using the participant’s responses to follow-up questionnaires at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months post-procedure, the research team measured improvements in multiple quality-of-life factors, including: Concern, Activities, Energy/Mood, Control, Sexual Function, and Self-Consciousness. They concluded that the women participants, “showed significant improvement in their symptom severity and health-related quality of life [in the first] 3 months post treatment”. Moreover, the effects seemed to last; the researchers noted that the improvements they observed, represented in the graph below, were “sustained over 2 years, accompanied by a low rate of re-intervention (4.8%)”.
As awareness of minimally invasive treatment options increases, perhaps the painful emotions like fear, anxiety, and depression that commonly precede treatment decisions will be alleviated, and “toughing it out” will no longer be perceived as necessary. Moreover, for those women who take the next step of treating, rather than enduring, their fibroids through a minimally invasive procedure, the outlook for an improved emotional, physical, and mental state is a positive one.
- Ghant, M.S. et al. “An altered perception of normal: a qualitative assessment of women’s experiences with symptomatic uterine fibroids”, Fertility & Sterility. Sept 2014; Vol. 102(3):255.
- Ghant, M.S. et al. “Beyond the physical: a qualitative assessment of the emotional burden of symptomatic uterine fibroids on women’s mental health”, Fertility & Sterility. Sept 2014; Vol. 102(3):329.
- Guido et al. “Radiofrequency volumetric thermal ablation of fibroids: a prospective, clinical analysis of two years’ outcome from the Halt trial”, Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 2013 11:139.
For women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with Uterine Fibroids, a common concern is how fibroids will impact their fertility. Fortunately, the incidence of infertility occurring as a direct result of fibroids is low. While research has shown that that approximately 5-10% of infertile women have one or more fibroids, the fibroids can only be identified as the single cause of infertility in 2-3% of those cases.
When fibroids do impact a woman’s fertility, they can do so in several possible ways: namely, by impacting the movement of the egg, embryo, or sperm through the woman’s reproductive organs. As fibroids grow in size, they can change the shape of the uterus, push surrounding reproductive organs, and create blockages. Changes in the uterine muscle that are caused by an intramural fibroid can inhibit the movement or implantation of an embryo. If a fibroid blocks the fallopian tubes, it could prevent eggs from moving freely during ovulation. If its positioning results in movement of the cervix, sperm may not be able to successfully move through the cervix to reach the uterus. In any one of these scenarios, the presence of a fibroid can impact a woman’s fertility.
To some extent, the size of the fibroid can make a difference; it is known that fibroids larger than 5 centimeters are more likely to affect the success of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). In addition to creating blockages and displacement of reproductive organs, a fibroid can impair fertility by causing inflammation in the uterine wall and thereby discouraging implantation of an embryo. Moreover, the position of a fibroid could restrict blood flow to the uterine cavity where an embryo would implant.
The bottom line is fibroids can affect fertility and may decrease the chances of success for women undergoing IVF. That said, the mere presence of fibroids does not preclude a woman from becoming pregnant, and if infertility is a problem, it is unlikely that fibroids are the sole cause.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “Fibroids and Fertility Fact Sheet”, Resources, ReproductiveFacts.org: 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2015, from http://www.reproductivefacts.org/FACTSHEET_Fibroids_and_Fertility/
- “Fibroid Tumors.” [Video]. American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 21 Feb. 2012. Retrieved March 14, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSJ-ztQ97Og
Do Fibroids in the Uterus Increase Cancer Risks?
The word ‘tumor’ evokes feelings of fear largely because it is commonly associated with cancer. However, the majority of tumors are benign and unlikely to spread by metastases. This does not render them harmless, with some growths causing symptoms that are severe enough to warrant surgery.
Fibroids in uterus are muscular growths that form on the wall of the uterus or in the abdominal and endometrial cavities. When benign, they often cause heavy bleeding, abdominal enlargement, pain in the lower back, pelvic area and during periods and frequent urination. Many sufferers don’t experience any symptoms at all. In contrast, cancerous uterine fibroids grow quickly and can cause vaginal bleeding in postmenopausal women, but even benign fibroids can grow at a rapid pace.
The Difference Between Cause and Correlation
In the past, studies have shown that there is no link between fibroids in uterus and cancer, but recent studies have revealed that women who are at increased risk of fibroids are also at increased risk of uterine cancer. This research has been misconstrued to mean that there is a causal link between the two, whereas it only reveals the already-known fact that postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 60 are more likely to suffer both from benign fibroids and uterine cancer.
As of yet, there are still no studies that can directly and causally link benign uterine fibroids to cancer. In essence, correlation is not the same as causation. The statistics reveal the rarity of cancerous fibroids, with only 1 in 1000 cases of uterine fibroids being malignant.
The presence of fibroids is cause for concern, given that there are overlapping symptoms for benign and malignant growths. Doctors use biopsies, pelvic exams, blood tests and MRIs to diagnose whether the growths are malignant or benign. Uterine fibroids can be extremely debilitating. 35 percent of premenopausal women with uterine fibroids find that their condition interferes with their lifestyles and ability to work. One of the most drastic cures and one that was commonly used until recently is a complete hysterectomy in cases where less invasive procedures were ineffective. This left those who had not yet reached menopause with infertility and early hormonal changes that produced their own disruptive symptoms.
Common Problems with Uncommon Solutions
Despite the fact that 20 percent of premenopausal women and 80 percent of postmenopausal women have benign fibroids, effective treatments have been notoriously evasive. Apart from the dramatic solution of hysterectomy, treatments include hormone replacement therapy, which comes with its own symptoms, myomectomy and endometrial ablation. The latter two surgical options involve the removal of the fibroids themselves or removing the uterus lining respectively. Both can render the sufferer infertile.
It is also possible to cut blood flow from the uterus to force growths to shrink. Whether this nonsurgical procedure leads to infertility remains unknown. However, it can come with rare complications such as premature menopause, the formation of scar tissue and the discontinuation of menstruation. For patients with minor symptoms, medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and birth control pills can help to relieve symptoms.
Many patients seeking to avoid the drastic medical options available to them have sought help through alternative therapies that hold little proven benefit. Nutritional changes target symptoms indirectly by preventing bloating that might make uterine pain worse. Attempts to change hormonal balance through dietary changes do not make room for patients who are not overweight or who are suffering from imbalances caused by stress. Herbal formulations remain unstandardized without the control and research of guided FDA regulations and trials.
In 2012, the FDA approved a non-invasive procedure that treats benign fibroids. Acessa is a laparoscopic procedure that negates the need for harsh surgeries while removing only the fibroids rather than the tissue surrounding them. Radiofrequency energy is used to target only the tissue causing symptoms, offering a workable same-day solution that is as effective as it is safe.
Looking For More Information on Treating Fibroids?
If you feel you may have the symptoms or have been diagnosed with uterine fibroid tumors, it is a good idea to discuss all of the available treatments for fibroids.
Click on Physician Finder to find an Acessa-trained physician near you to see if the Acessa procedure is right for you. Or for more information, please contact Acessa Health at 877.412.3828.