Uterine fibroids are no longer reserved for women over the age of 40. In recent years these abnormal tissue growths have been making an appearance in younger women. Here’s what you should look out for…
What are fibroids?
Fibrous connective tissues and muscle cells that are clustered together make up a fibroid and often occur in multiple parts of the uterus, either on the lining or outside the uterus. They range in size and severity, with some fibroids visible from a simple pelvic exam and others requiring an ultrasound.
According to gynaecologist and endoscopic surgeon Dr Natalia Novikova, fibroids are actually common among women of reproductive age and can grow pretty big.
Although symptom-free fibroids do exist, they’re generally accompanied by a range of disruptive symptoms, such as prolonged periods, excessive bleeding, painful sex, pelvic pain, pica (the desire to eat clay), pressure in the abdomen, and bowel and bladder pressure.
Although fibroids are non-cancerous, their symptoms can be super-inconvenient. There’s some debate around whether they shrink after menopause (this differs from case to case), but the consensus is it’s best to get them removed. “Treatment is extremely valuable for women who suffer from terrible symptoms,” explains Dr Novikova.
How do you treat uterine fibroids?
So, what are your options if you’re diagnosed with fibroids? Currently, the number one treatment is a hysterectomy, which involves partial or complete removal of the womb. For many younger women who still want to have kids, this should really only be a last resort. Another surgical option, myomectomy, a procedure that removes the fibroid(s) but leaves the uterus intact, does carry the risk of regrowth.
Is surgery the only option?
Well, no. For those who don’t want to go under the knife, there are less invasive treatments. Birth control pills have been used as a fibroid management method, with many women reporting relief of symptoms with continuous use. Then there are micro-invasive methods, such as uterine fibroid embolisation (UFE), which effectively targets the fibroids with very little chance of regrowth.
“The benefit of offering younger patients UFE is that they’re likely to remain fibroid-free for far longer than if they’d have undergone myomectomy,” says Dr Andrew Lawson of Fibroid Care, one of the primary providers of UFE in Southern Africa. “Young myomectomy patients have an extraordinary high fibroid recurrence rate and considering first-line UFE might simply give them a better chance to avoid a second procedure in years to come.”