Although uterine fibroids are not cancer, the burden of disease and its impact on quality of life are stunning. Uterine fibroids affect 50-80 percent of women; almost two out of every three women you know maybe suffering from them. Yet, a recent Harris Poll survey indicates that nearly 28 percent of women have never heard of fibroids. It’s a common problem that is uncommonly spoken about.
Fibroids commonly affect working women of child bearing age. The excessive bleeding, pain, and abdominal pressure affect their ability to work both at their jobs and to take care of their children. Fibroids have a negative effect on a woman’s self-esteem and sexuality. Worse, once these fibroids grow to a large size they can affect the heart due to anemia (low levels of iron in the blood). Lost work time due to inability to attend work as well as medical and surgical treatment of fibroids are estimated to cost billions of dollars to the economy.
And yet, even in the era of female sexual liberation, talking about sexual and reproductive health is still a taboo in many communities. Many women suffer in silence and assume the pain and heavy bleeding is something they just have to learn to live with. Their moms and aunts live with it and so did their grandmoms. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There is fear, unawareness and misconception in the community about fibroids and their treatment choices, resulting in women delayed seeking treatment, sometimes too late.
Not all fibroids need treatment. Medical treatment including iron supplements and hormonal medications work well for mild bleeding symptoms. In the past, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) was the only surgical option available to offer relief for women with severe fibroid symptoms.
However, this is now often recommended as a last resort and has been replaced by minimally invasive options like and Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) and laparoscopic myomectomy. UFE stops the blood supply to the fibroid, causing it to shrink and die. UFE is a same-day procedure performed by a vascular and interventional radiologist through a tiny pinhole in the wrist that ensures faster return to work. This may be a good option for women who wish to avoid surgery and preserve their uterus and femininity.
In 2019, it’s time to stop the shame and let women know that they are not alone when dealing with fibroids. There is a lot of help, resources and guidance. So, don’t suffer in silence. Seek help early! Be an advocate for yourself and for others. The best time to start is now.
Keith Pereira, M.D., is an interventional specialist and assistant professor of vascular and interventional radiology at Saint Louis University.