What Are Uterine Fibroids and Can They Become Cancerous?

September 12th, 2007 by | Category: Cancer

Many premenopausal and postmenopausal women develop uterine fibroids. These are usually benign growths that are made up of connective tissue and smooth muscle.

Fibroids are generated by the thick uterine wall and can vary in size from very small or the size of the head of a pin to the size of a melon. They can develop in various parts of the uterus. Uterine fibroids develop mostly during pregnancy and then dissolve after menopause. So some studies have reasoned that this is why the hormones estrogen and progesterone have a role to play in the growth of fibroids. Researchers are of the opinion that genetic factors, usually inherited from the paternal side, lead to the development of fibroids. Also, there are certain abnormalities in some substances called growth factors that lead to fibroid formation.

Fibroids may exist in the uterus without causing any pain or displaying any uterine fibroids symptoms. But when symptoms do exist they can manifest as heavy and extended bleeding at the time of menstruation. Fibroids growing in the cavity of the uterus cause this kind of bleeding. Abdominal cramp-like pressure is caused by overly large fibroids, which can also be felt as large lumps and sometimes showing as though the woman is pregnant. There is an increase in the urge and frequency to urinate, especially if a woman is lying down, and sometimes the urine flow is blocked if the fibroids put pressure on the ureters. There is a lot of pain during intercourse and the pressure of fibroids on the rectum can cause constipation.

Fibroids in the uterus are the most common type of tumor found in the reproductive organs of women. The estimate is that almost 50% of women between the ages of thirty and fifty have fibroids, although only half that number will actually experience any symptoms. Some risk factors have been identified but research on them is still continuing. If you are exposed to high levels of estrogen then there is a risk of developing fibroids. They start growing around puberty but are only likely to be detected or diagnosed when you are an adult. If menstruation has set in early or if you are overweight with a sedentary lifestyle and have never had a child then you are at risk of developing fibroids. Some research studies suggest that some combined oral contraceptives containing estrogen and progesterone as well as hormone replacement therapy that uses these hormones can lead to fibroids growing.

African-American women are more at risk of developing fibroids because of their diet or other environmental factors. Hypertension is also linked to an increased risk of fibroid growth.

Fibroids can affect fertility and pregnancy and increase the risk of complications during delivery. Anemia is also possible if bleeding due to fibroids is excessive. If larger fibroids put pressure on the bladder then urinary tract infection is likely, sometimes leading to obstruction of the urine flow or damage to the kidneys.

A pelvic examination will determine the existence of fibroids. The doctor will require your complete personal and medical history and diagnosis will also depend on ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms. Fibroids may not need to be surgically removed if they don’t grow very fast and do not cause pain or too much bleeding.

To answer the second question, uterine fibroids are generally noncancerous and benign even if their cell shapes are abnormal. Uterine cancer mostly develops in the uterus lining. But in some very rare cases cancer can occur due to some very malignant changes in a fibroid. Also, if fibroids are growing larger they do require surgical assessment in order to rule out cancer.

Monitor your health and have regular pelvic examinations and ultrasounds to keep a watch on the fibroids. Change your diet and your lifestyle to prevent further growth and complications. Alternative treatments such as yoga and acupuncture can also help, but take these up after consulting your physician.

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