Uterine Fibroid Tumors
Uterine fibroid tumors are found within the wall of the uterus. Almost always benign, fibroid tumors are mostly found in women in their 40’s and early 50’s. They are composed of smooth muscle cells (“fibrous” tissue) and can vary in size, location and number. Depending on these variables, uterine fibroid tumors can be worrisome for some patients.
Opinions vary on the cause of uterine fibroid tumors. Researchers believe hormonal and genetic factors, among others, could be behind the formation of uterine fibroid tumors.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
The most common benign tumors in women, uterine fibroids are typically found during middle and later reproductive years. Another medical term often used for fibroids is “leiomyoma,” or just “myoma.” Uterine fibroids are best described as solid, spherical, smooth muscle tumors. They are typically asymptomatic (do not show symptoms), though in the United States, uterine fibroids are considered to be the major indication for hysterectomy.
It has been estimated that between 20 and 80 percent of women will develop fibroids at some point before they reach age 50. Some women with uterine fibroids experience symptoms while others are symptom free. Women with symptoms often find fibroids difficult to live with, as some experience pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. They can also put pressure on the bladder or the rectum. In the event that fibroids reach a very large size, it is possible for the abdomen to enlarge.
The malignant version of a fibroid—called leiomyosarcoma—is a rare form of sarcoma. Compared to other common endometrial carcinomas, leiomyosarcomas are more aggressive and are associated with a poorer prognosis.
Uterine Fibroid Symptoms
Most of the time, uterine fibroids are asymptomatic. However, they can grow under certain circumstances, resulting in symptoms that include:
- Heavy and/or painful menstruation (can cause anemia in some patients)
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Feeling of heaviness or fullness in the pelvic area
- Lower back pain
- Urinary frequency and urgency
- Pregnancy and/or labor complications (can lead to greater risk of cesarean section)
The surgical procedure for the removal of fibroids from the uterus is called a myomectomy. The procedure allows for the uterus to stay in place, thus making it the preferred surgical procedure for women who wish to become pregnant. A hysterectomy, on the other hand, is the surgical procedure for the removal of the uterus.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against the use of power morcellators during procedures to break up uterine fibroids, because the procedure can spread undetected cancer cells in women. Due to reports of cancer developing after the procedures, the FDA issued a safety alert in 2014 discouraging the use of power morcellators during myomectomy or hysterectomy.
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