Fibroid Mythbusters: Debunking Fibroid Fiction
Fibroids are a common occurrence, affecting 80% of women of all races by the time they turn 50. But as the month of February marks Black History Month, it’s important to note that African American women are disproportionately affected by fibroids. Not only are they more likely to have fibroids — often at a younger age — but they are also more likely to experience more severe symptoms compared to women of other races. Approximately 90% of African American women will have fibroids by age 50.
Because uterine fibroids are so common, there’s a lot of information to be found from a variety of sources — not all of them reliable. To clear up the misinformation, CIGC co-founder and GYN surgical specialist Dr. Natalya Danilyants joined CIGC Director of Education and Community Outreach Nilofar Kazi to debunk the most pervasive fibroid myths.
Not sure what to ask your doctor about fibroids?
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Watch the recording here:
Myth: Fibroids only impact women in their 30s or 40s and they will disappear after menopause.
Fibroids can show up at any age. Because fibroids are estrogen-fueled, many people falsely believe they will disappear after estrogen production decreases with menopause. While they may stop growing after menopause, fibroids will remain in the uterus until they are removed.
“A lot of women will delay, cancel or never schedule surgery because they hope their symptoms will go away once they hit menopause,” Dr. Danilyants said. “Fibroids don’t go away with menopause.”
If fibroids are causing severe symptoms like heavy bleeding or pelvic pain, it’s likely those symptoms will continue even after menopause.
Myth: All people with fibroids have debilitating symptoms like heavy bleeding and severe pelvic pain.
The experience of fibroids can be different from person to person. Some women may have debilitating symptoms, while others have no indication that they have fibroids at all.
“This is one of the reasons why a lot of women ask, ‘I don’t have any symptoms, so why do I need treatment?’” Dr. Danilyants said. “The problem is fibroids get larger with time. All they need is blood supply and estrogen. As long as there’s blood flowing to them and as long as there’s estrogen production, they will continue to get larger and larger.”
As fibroids get bigger, they can begin to impact surrounding organs and other structures in the pelvis. While a fibroid may not be causing any severe problems in its early stages, it’s likely it will become a more serious problem later. And the longer treatment is delayed, the more complicated treatment may become.
“A lack of symptoms doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t need to be addressed,” Dr. Danilyants said.
Myth: Fibroids are cancerous or increase women’s risk of cancer.
Fibroids are noncancerous growths in the uterus, and they do not increase your risk of developing cancer in the future. However, fibroid symptoms like heavy bleeding can sometimes overlap with some symptoms of GYN cancers. No matter what, it’s important to be evaluated by a GYN specialist who can determine the cause of any severe symptoms.
To learn more about the risks and characteristics of the different types of GYN cancers, check out our Facebook Live event on this topic.
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Myth: “Watch and wait” – It’s okay to watch fibroids and wait to see if they need treatment.
“Watch and wait” is a common directive from general physicians and OBGYNs, and it’s likely to do more harm than good. While a fibroid may start out small with few symptoms, the chances of it growing and causing more severe symptoms over time are high.
Results from CIGC’s Women’s Health Survey clearly illustrate the problems with a “watch and wait” approach. Of women diagnosed with fibroids and directed by their doctors to “watch and wait,” 78% said their symptoms grew more severe during the waiting period. Of those who eventually underwent fibroid surgery, 90% said their fibroids had increased in size during the “watch and wait” period.
“We can clearly see based on our survey results that the delay in care leads to worsening symptoms and the progression of the condition overall,” Kazi said.
For many women, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to delay fibroid treatment and put their care on pause. Long backlogs of surgeries at hospitals have also contributed to the delay.
One of the benefits of having surgery with a GYN specialist from CIGC is the opportunity to undergo your procedure at a freestanding ambulatory surgery center (ASC). An ASC is not attached to a hospital and does not treat patients with COVID-19. While a hospital might consider a surgery to remove fibroids “elective,” CIGC does not consider severe symptoms or pain to be elective. With an ASC, we can bypass the backlog and get you in for surgery in just a few weeks.
Learn more about how we’re keeping you safe and giving you the care you deserve during — and well beyond — the pandemic.
Myth: Fibroids don’t affect fertility.
If becoming pregnant in the future is one of your goals, it’s important to recognize the impact fibroids have on the uterus. The longer fibroids are left to grow and multiply, the more damage they can do to the uterus. Many women with fibroids have trouble conceiving naturally, and fibroids will increase the risk of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
For those seeking help with fertility via treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF), it’s best to have fibroids surgically removed before moving forward with fertility treatments. Cycles of IVF can be a large expense both financially and emotionally. For the greatest chance of success, CIGC’s GYN specialists recommend preparing your uterus by removing fibroids before undergoing IVF.
It’s also true that many women may have put their fertility dreams on hold during the ongoing pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. But just because you may be delaying pregnancy right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use this time to prepare your body for a successful pregnancy when the risk of contracting COVID-19 is lower.
A GYN specialist can help you ensure nothing stands int he way of the family of your dreams.
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Myth: Embolization or ablation are the best fibroid treatments if you want to retain fertility.
Both embolization and ablation are fibroid treatment methods that either cut off the blood flow to fibroids or use radiofrequency heat to stop the growth of fibroids. The problem with these treatments is they do not remove fibroids. If fibroids are left in the uterus, they can still cause infertility and increase the risk of negative outcomes during pregnancy. These treatment methods can also result in damage to the uterus, making carrying a baby to term more difficult.
“Cutting off the blood flow to the fibroid means you’re cutting off blood supply to the uterus and the uterine muscle,” Dr. Danilyants said. “It absolutely does impact fertility.”
To retain future fertility options, the recommended treatment for fibroids is a myomectomy. CIGC’s innovative LAAM procedure is a minimally invasive myomectomy that removes fibroids while maintaining the integrity of the uterus.
To learn more about the best fibroid treatment method for future fertility, check out our blog post on this topic.
We’re debunking even more fibroid myths in our next Facebook Live event. Stay tuned for our Facebook Live announcement of Fibroid Mythbusters Part 2!
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Our Last Live Event: Plan Your Care – CIGC Patient Advocacy Program
Did you miss our last Facebook Live event?
CIGC Director of Education and Community Outreach Nilofar Kazi led a discussion with CIGC’s Nurse Practitioner Abayomi Walker and CIGC’s Patient Advocate Mimi Zaw-Pham about what to expect from your initial consultation with The Center for Innovative GYN Care.