Fibroids (leiomyomata uteri) are the most common benign tumors of the uterus. They usually come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as well as numbers, in the uterus. Very rarely do they turn to cancer – the exact incidence being less than 1% in a patient’s lifetime. Women who are at risk usually have a family history, are Black or Hispanic, and may have an elevated Body Mass Index (BMI). As a matter of fact, because we are seeing more women with an increase in BMI, Caucasian women are presenting with fibroids more frequently as well. While there is still a lot to understand about the development of fibroids, they grow for two reasons: 1) hormones, in particular estrogen, and 2) blood supply.
Fibroids can be located in different parts of the uterus. Just like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location! There are some fibroids that are located underneath the surface of the uterus, which are called subserosal; these generally do not cause bleeding but can cause pressure. There are those that are embedded in the muscle of the uterus, which are called intramural. Finally, there are those fibroids that affect the lining of the uterus, which are called submucosal, and these are the ones that usually present with excessive bleeding.
Symptoms and Tests
The most common symptoms of fibroids are heavy bleeding, pressure, increased frequency in urination and pelvic pain. Although most fibroids do not usually cause pain, if they outgrow their blood supply, it can cause pain due to degeneration (which means tissue breakdown). Fibroids are usually diagnosed with a pelvic exam and a pelvic sonogram. Transvaginal sonography is very good at detailing whether a fibroid is affecting the uterine lining or not.