We all know an auntie, a sister, a cousin or maybe it is our mother or maybe even it is us, but we all know someone who is affected by fibroids. Greater than 80% of African-American women will experience fibroids in their lifetime. Look at Real Housewives of Atlanta, four of the most popular stars have had surgery for fibroids: Cynthia, Kandi, Kenya and Porsha. So science and pop culture support why you know someone in your family or circle affected by fibroids. This is no conspiracy because these same trends are seen on the continent but are not well-documented due to limited resources for research. As an Obstetrician-Gynecologist who has performed surgeries on fibroids in the United States and in Ghana, we are all fighting the same fight here and abroad. Black women are affected younger with fibroids and therefore tend to have myomectomies or fibroid removal surgeries that save the uterus for future childbearing.
What Are They?
Let’s start with what the uterus is. The uterus is an organ made mostly of muscle that holds and develops a baby during pregnancy and sheds menstrual blood. Fibroids are balls of disorganized muscle that can form in the different layers of the uterus. These are the three different tissues of the uterus:
Endometrium: this is the cavity portion where the baby develops and where shedding occurs monthly for menstruation.
Muscle: this is the strength layer where cramping occurs during menses and contractions during labor
Serosa: this the smooth layer of tissue on the outside of the uterus that separates the uterus from the rest of the abdomen. It is like a blanket that covers the uterus.
Fibroids are common, as we have discussed, but what makes them affect some women and others not so much? I always tell my patients that fibroids are just like pimples, everybody has them and they go unnoticed unless they’re in an obvious location or very big. One type of fibroid that sits in two layers of the uterus, is submucosal. They usually originate in the muscle layer but grow into the cavity and can cause heavy bleeding because there is direct access to the where menstrual blood develops. Women with submucosal fibroids often have what I call “faucet bleeding” where they bleed suddenly and fast like someone just turned on a faucet. The lesson here is not to get caught up in the fact you may have fibroids but focus on where they are and how it impacts your life.
These benign tumors are almost always benign and do not transform into cancer. Less than 1% of the fibroids removed in surgery are found to be cancerous.
Read more on this "F-Word" series to learn more about how to live with and treat fibroids.