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What are fibroid tumors and should they be removed?

Dr. David Wood is an interventional radiologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. His office can be reached at (602) 839-4601.  

Question: I was diagnosed with fibroid tumors in the past. Will I need to have these fibroids removed at some point in time? 

Answer: For most women who have fibroid tumors, the answer is no. 

Fibroids are benign uterine tumors that arise from the muscular wall of the uterus. These tumors are extremely common, occurring in approximately 50-80 percent of women by the age of 50, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center. No one knows what exactly causes fibroids, but we do know that hormones and genetics are factors. 

Fibroids are found and diagnosed through pelvic exams and ultrasounds. Fortunately, in most women these tumors are too small to cause any problems. Although in rare instances fibroids can grow as large as the size of a grapefruit. When fibroids are large enough to cause problems, symptoms often include heavy bleeding during periods, fullness or pain in the lower belly or pelvis, urinary frequency, and constipation.

For some women, heavy menstrual bleeding related to fibroids can lead to anemia. Since the loss of blood occurs slowly, anemia can become quite severe before a woman becomes aware of symptoms.

As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of fibroids are harmless and have no symptoms or real impact on a woman’s life. In most instances it is best for these tumors to be left alone. Simply monitoring fibroids through regular gynecological exams is the best course of treatment when no noticeable symptoms are present. 

When problems do occur, however, there are a number of ways to effectively treat fibroids, including surgical and non-surgical therapies. Surgical interventions include: hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), myomectomy (removal of just the fibroids in the uterus), cryosurgery (freezing and destroying the fibroids), uterine artery embolization (injecting particles that reduce blood flow to the fibroids), and other techniques.

Though hysterectomy remains the common surgical treatment for fibroids, there are newer minimally-invasive procedures available that present less risk and a shorter recovery time.

If you have been diagnosed with fibroid tumors and are experiencing symptoms, talk with your gynecologist about which treatment strategy, if any, is right for you.

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