Fibroids are extremely common. An estimated 70-80% of women develop them in their lifetime. But, what are fibroids? How do they develop, and do they pose significant health risks?
Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, fibroids pose no health risks at all and have no symptoms. However, on rare occasions, fibroids can be cancerous. Because of this, it is important to monitor uterine fibroids to make sure that they do not cause any complications.
Let’s explore fibroids more deeply, and find out how to identify cancerous fibroids.
Fibroids are growths made of muscle cells and connective tissue that can develop in the uterus. Fibroids are technically tumors, though they are almost always benign and noncancerous.
The majority of women will develop fibroids during their life. In fact, fibroids are the most common form of tumor that develops in the reproductive system. In many cases, however, women experience no symptoms at all, and fibroids do not pose a medical risk. The exact cause of uterine fibroids is not fully understood, although a family history of fibroids has been linked to increased risk.
Risk Factors and Potential Causes of Uterine Fibroids
As mentioned, there is no consensus on the cause of fibroids. However, there are a few documented risk factors. These include age, race, diet, and starting menstruation age.
While all women can be impacted by fibroids, women nearing menopause are at the greatest risk.
Similarly, black women are more likely to develop fibroids in general. Black women tend to develop them at a younger age than women of other racial groups. The underlying reasons for this are unknown. Again, it is important to stress that women of all races can develop fibroids in their lifetime.
Some dietary habits have also been linked to an increased risk of fibroids. A diet that is high in red meat, for instance, can increase the risk of developing uterine fibroids. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an elevated risk of fibroids. Obesity has also been observed as a risk factor for fibroids.
Starting Menstruation Age
Women who had their first period at a younger-than-average age have also been found to be at greater risk of developing fibroids.
Fibroids Symptoms and Treatment
As mentioned, many women who have uterine fibroids will experience no symptoms. However, there are some cases where noncancerous fibroids can cause mild to moderate symptoms.
Discomfort is one of the most commonly documented symptoms of noncancerous fibroids. Other common symptoms include heavy bleeding during periods or bleeding between periods, frequent urination, and pelvic or lower back pain.
Some women may also experience difficulty becoming pregnant due to fibroids. This is not common, but some types of fibroids, particularly submucosal fibroids, pose a greater risk for loss of pregnancy or pregnancy complications.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are typically diagnosed during physical examination. Without the presence of symptoms, there is no other way to observe most fibroids.
The most common method of confirming a uterine fibroid diagnosis is ultrasound scans. In some cases, doctors may also use an MRI to confirm a diagnosis.
Without any symptoms, most uterine fibroids are simply observed rather than treated. In these non-severe cases, women and their doctors will simply monitor the status of fibroids for potential complications.
If aggressive treatment is needed, there are a few options available. Some medications can be used to balance hormones and combat certain fibroids symptoms.
In cases where fibroids need to be removed, both noninvasive and invasive procedures are available. These include focused ultrasound surgery, radiofrequency ablation, and uterine artery embolization.