July is the time for the beach, ice cream…and fibroid awareness. Yup, it’s Uterine Fibroid Awareness Month. If you haven’t heard of uterine fibroids, which are benign tumors that grow on the walls of the uterus, you’ll want to learn more about them ASAP—particularly since a majority of women will have them at some point in their lives. A single tumor can occur, or a woman can have several, and they can range in size from that of an apple seed to that of a grapefruit, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Here are some other facts you need to know.
1. Certain groups are more likely to have fibroids than others.
Over 70 percent of women will develop uterine fibroids at some point, although they only cause symptoms in about 25 percent of women, according to the Center for Uterine Fibroids, a joint research effort between Mayo Clinic and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Black women have a much higher risk of developing fibroids, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., assistant professor of clinical ob/gyn and director of minimally invasive gynecology at The University of Illinois at Chicago, tells SELF.
If your mom, sister, grandmother, or other female relative has fibroids, that can also dramatically increase your risk of getting them, says Shepherd. All the more reason to ask your family for their medical history.
2. They aren’t a cause for concern unless they become disruptive to your daily life.
When fibroids become symptomatic, they can cause issues like heavy periods, abdominal bloating or growth, incontinence, a sensation of pressure down there, constipation, or painful sex. “They can interfere with a woman’s daily activity or daily life when they do become symptomatic,” says Shepherd. “Otherwise, if a woman is asymptomatic, they’re not dangerous at all. We don’t typically look at them as harmful [on their own].”
3. You probably can conceive if you have fibroids.
This is one of the biggest points of confusion around fibroids, says Shepherd. “[Fibroids affecting] fertility really depends on the number, location, and size of the fibroids,” she says. “Those are things a patient would have to talk to their doctor about and get an ultrasound to look at the different characteristics of the fibroid(s) to determine if it does, in fact, affect their fertility.”
4. You don’t have to get a hysterectomy to treat them.
If a family member did experience uterine fibroids and had a hysterectomy because of them, keep in mind that you won’t necessarily need to have your uterus removed. “Back in the day, when you had a fibroid that caused very heavy bleeding, we thought a hysterectomy was the only option,” says Shepherd. “Now we’re able to offer other options.”
You can go on hormonal birth control like an IUD if heavy bleeding is your biggest complaint. Or, for other symptoms, you can have less invasive procedures than a hysterectomy, like a myomectomy (surgical removal of the fibroids) or MyoSure, which removes the tissue mechanically. Both options have a shorter recovery time than that of a hysterectomy, which usually requires five to eight weeks of downtime, says Shepherd. That said, some women still prefer to get a hysterectomy if other treatments don’t work or if they’re close to menopause.
5. Even if you do get fibroids removed, they can come back.
“We usually quote fibroid recurrence—or a new growth of another one—at 25 to 31 percent,” says Shepherd. “But when you look at that number, it’s really not a very high percentage that would come back.”
Overall, dealing with fibroids really comes down to knowing what’s best for you. “I think it requires a great relationship with your doctor to talk through the different options before you come to one decision,” says Shepherd. “Also, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you’re not comfortable with the information you’re receiving.”