Leiomyomas, more commonly called uterine fibroids, are the most common non-cancerous (benign) tumors in women. Between 60% and 80% of women will develop uterine fibroids before menopause. Uterine fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer.
What are uterine fibroids?
Fibroids occur when a cell in the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus starts dividing uncontrollably. They are very responsive to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. For instance, the increase of hormones during pregnancy tends to make fibroids grow, and the decrease in hormones during menopause tends to shrink fibroids. Fibroids vary in size, shape, and location and often change the shape of the uterus. They range from the size of a pea to large tumors which can be felt outside of the body and are found on, in, or inside of the uterus. They can be solitary (only one fibroid) or develop into groups. They may or may not cause symptoms. The good news: they do not spread to other parts of the body and they might shrink after menopause!
Uterine fibroids are typically small and asymptomatic but, depending on their location, number, and size, they can sometimes lead to symptoms including abnormal bleeding, abdominal and pelvic pain or pressure, irregular bowel and bladder function, infertility, and painful periods. They can sometimes cause problems during pregnancy including early pregnancy loss, vaginal bleeding, preterm delivery, breech birth (baby emerges buttocks or feet first), or other complications.
What causes uterine fibroids?
The cause of fibroids is unknown, but they occur most commonly in women who are obese, African-American women, women who experienced early puberty, have never been pregnant, or whose mothers had fibroids. As mentioned above, their development is linked to the availability of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which is why they develop and grow most prolifically in pre-menopausal women in their 30s and 40s and during pregnancy.
What treatments are available for uterine fibroids?
Diagnosis is done with a pelvic exam and ultrasound. A biopsy may be performed to rule out a uterine cancer. Because the vast majority of fibroids are benign, “watchful waiting” is an option for many women who do not have symptoms or pressure on nearby organs. Fibroid growth may be monitored periodically by ultrasound. Surgery is only required in about 20% of cases. Minimally invasive surgery can be used to remove the fibroids themselves from the uterus, but a minimally invasive hysterectomy can be performed if symptoms are serious or if a woman has completed childbearing.
Dr. Mitch Dizon specializes in Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery (MIGS) at Erlanger Women’s Health. His specialized clinical care focuses on and provides treatment for uterine fibroids, endometriosis, abnormal uterine bleeding, pain with intercourse, and chronic pelvic, vulvar, and urogenital pain. He believes in excellence in care for women with chronic pain conditions and the need for advanced gynecologic surgery. Dr. Dizon’s practice provides up-to-date, comprehensive medical information and care for the treatment of women with uterine fibroids. He offers the full range of diagnostic tests and treatments including minimally-invasive surgery such as laparoscopic (and robotic) myomectomy and hysterectomy, and hysteroscopic myomectomy.
If you think you may have uterine fibroids, make an appointment with your doctor or call 778-MIGS (6447) for more information about minimally invasive surgery for uterine fibroids.