What are fibroid tumors?
Question: I recently learned that I have a fibroid tumor on my uterus. Will you please describe what fibroid tumors are and how having one will impact my life?
Answer: Fibroid tumors are the most common tumors or growths of the female genital tract, occurring in approximately 50-80 percent of women by the age of 50, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center. Fibroids, or myomas (as they are often called), are tumors that grow from the walls of the arteries that run through the uterus. These tumors can range in size, from as small as a Tic-Tac to as large as a softball. The good news is that despite the fear that is often associated with the term “tumor”, malignant fibroids are extremely rare. In fact, I have seen only two cases of a cancerous fibroid in my 35 years of practice.
For the most part, fibroids do not cause any symptoms, which means that having this type of tumor may not impact your life at all. With that said, some women do experience symptoms. In cases where symptoms are present, fibroids typically affect women in three distinct ways. First, they can cause an abnormal form of vaginal bleeding, known as menorrhagia. Menorrhagia is characterized by menstrual periods which are very regular, yet progressively heavier and longer in duration. Second, they can cause pain, but usually only during pregnancy as fibroids grow in response to the estrogen hormone. Third, fibroid tumors can cause the uterus to slowly grow over time, sometimes to remarkable proportions. This growth rarely causes symptoms, but sometimes can put pressure on nearby organs, such as the bowel and bladder.
Since fibroid tumors generally do not present symptoms, they seldom require any treatment. Routine visits to your gynecologist for “size checks” are sufficient in most cases. When symptoms do present problems, there are a number of effective medical and/or surgical treatment options available that your healthcare provider can discuss with you in more depth if necessary.
Once a fibroid is detected, whether symptoms exist or not, it’s important that your gynecologist continues to monitor the tumor during your annual exams. If symptoms do occur, contact your gynecologist for advice in how to best manage or treat these symptoms. Do not hesitate to speak with your doctor if you have additional questions or concerns.