Uterine Fibroids

Fibroids are noncancerous tumors that develop in the uterus. They affect an estimated 20 to 50 percent of women, although not all are diagnosed. They are not associated with increased uterine cancer risk. However, when they grow into the uterine wall, fibroids may interfere with a woman's efforts to become pregnant.

Most women who have fibroids do not experience symptoms. However, fibroids can sometimes produce:

  • Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods
  • Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Pelvic pain caused by one or more tumors pressing on pelvic organs
  • Frequent urination
  • Low back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • A firm mass, often located near the middle of the pelvis, which can be felt by a clinician

Diagnosing and Treating Uterine Fibroids

Because most women with uterine fibroids do not experience symptoms, most do not require treatment. For those who do experience symptoms like those listed above, treatment may be necessary depending on the severity of the symptoms. Emergency treatment is sometimes needed when there is sudden, sharp pain or profuse bleeding.

Several methods can be used to diagnose uterine fibroids, including imaging exams such as ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, or hysteroscopy (an optical instrument inserted through the vagina). In some cases a biopsy may be performed to rule out cancer.

For mild cases, managing pain with anti-inflammatory drugs may be a sufficient treatment. Other treatment options, which vary based on such factors as the severity and location of the fibroids, the patient's age, and whether the patient intends to become pregnant in the future, may include:

  • Anti-hormonal drugs
  • Myomectomy, a conservative surgical procedure that removes fibroids while leaving the uterus intact
  • Uterine fibroid embolization, a minimally invasive, image-guided procedure that delivers small particles that destroy the fibroid tumors by cutting off their blood supply.
  • Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus)