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What you should know about fibroid tumors

Uterine tumors are almost always benign

Although fibroid tumors are very common among women, they usually aren’t cause for concern. Fibroids occur in about 60 percent of women between age 30 and 50, but the risk of one being cancerous is about one in 2,000, says Robert Morris, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at the Karmanos Cancer Center.

“Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus,” Dr. Morris says. “More research is needed to determine why they occur. We believe that estrogen stimulates their growth. Fibroids tend to shrink after a woman reaches menopause.”

Dr. Morris encourages women to be aware of fibroid symptoms and have any uterine tumors checked out by a gynecologist. Most fibroids are discovered during routine gynecological exams.

“Most fibroids don’t cause any symptoms,” Dr. Morris says. “However, women should pay attention to prolonged menstrual flow, increased vaginal bleeding, more frequent urination or anything that might suggest a mass in the pelvis. Bring any of these symptoms to the attention of your gynecologist.”

Fibroid tumors can vary in size from 1 cm (04. inches) up to a 40 cm (15.7 inches). Doctors usually order an ultrasound to determine if a pelvic mass is a fibroid.

“If a fibroid tumor causes moderate to severe pain or bleeding, it can be removed surgically during a myomectomy (which leaves the healthy tissue of the uterus intact) or a hysterectomy (complete removal of the uterus),” Dr. Morris says. “Hormone medications can also help shrink a fibroid mass. For the most part, fibroids are smaller and don’t require any treatment.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Most fibroids are harmless and show no symptoms. But a larger fibroid mass can lead to serious health issues. Be sure to get regular health exams and alert your gynecologist if you experience any of these symptoms:

• Heavy bleeding or painful periods
• Feeling of fullness in the pelvic (lower stomach) area
• Enlargement of the lower abdomen
• Frequent urination
• Pain during sex
• Lower back pain

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