Cancer and Fibroids

Because uterine fibroids are tumors, many women who have been diagnosed with fibroids are concerned about developing cancer. Although uterine fibroids are benign tumors, is it possible for them to become cancerous?

What are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine fibroids are growths in the muscular wall of the uterus that are made up of muscle cells and thread-like fibres of connective tissues. Fibroids, also called uterine myomas, fibromyomas or leiomyomas, may develop as a single nodule or may grow in clusters. They vary immensely in size from 1mm to more than 20cm. Depending upon the location of their development, fibroid tumors may be segregated into three categories:

  • Intramural Fibroids - They are the most common type of fibroids that grow inside the wall of the uterus.
  • Subserosal Fibroids - They grow outwards from the outer layer of the uterus towards the abdominal cavity.
  • Submucosal Fibroids - They grow inwards from the uterine wall into the endometrial cavity.

Sometimes fibroids are attached to the uterus by the means of a stalk. Such stalked fibroids are called pedunculated fibroids.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for the development of uterine fibroids. Some researchers consider genetic pre-disposition, and subsequent development of susceptibility to hormone stimulation, as the main reasons responsible for the growth of uterine fibroids.

Notwithstanding their cause of development, uterine fibroids are very common. Approximately one out of every four women over the age of 35 has fibroid tumors. In most of these women, fibroids are totally asymptomatic. However, for some women, the symptoms of uterine fibroids can be quite severe.

Are Uterine Fibroids a Kind of Cancer?

Many people think that fibroids are a kind of cancer due because they are often referred to as ‘Fibroid Tumor’. While it is true that fibroid are a type of tumor, to think of them as cancerous is incorrect. Uterine fibroids are actually non-cancerous (benign) growths of the uterus, meaning that they do not have cancer cells.

Can Uterine Fibroids Lead to Cancer?

Typically, fibroids neither lead to cancer nor do they increase a woman’s chances of developing cancer of uterus. However, studies indicate that one out of every 1,000 women admitted to the hospital for fibroid surgery have a leiomyosarcoma, an extremely rare form of malignant tumor of the uterine muscle. Although the average age for the development of leiomyosarcoma is 58-years-old, under some extremely rare circumstances this form of uterine cancer may also develop in young women.

What are the Symptoms of Cancerous Uterine Fibroids?

Basically, there are two significant symptoms, which indicate that a fibroid may be cancerous.

  1. Rapid growth of the fibroids or the uterus.
  2. Postmenopausal vaginal bleeding.

Up till now, research has not provided any evidence to link the rate of growth of fibroids with cancer. In other words, rapidly growing fibroids don’t necessarily indicate the presence of cancer.

However, the situation is a bit different in postmenopausal women. Studies suggest that the incidence of cancerous fibroids increases in women in their 50s and 60s. Therefore, if a woman is in her postmenopausal years, and is not on estrogen replacement therapy, fibroids in the uterus may be a cause of concern.

Are There any Tests to Detect Cancerous Uterine Fibroids?

Doctors use different procedures to determine whether the fibroids are cancerous or not. Some of them are:

  • Pelvic Examination - The uterus, vagina, cervix and ovaries are thoroughly examined to determine any abnormality in their shape and size.
  • Biopsy - This involves removing a small tissue sample of the fibroid and examining it under a microscope to detect any abnormality.
  • MRI/LDH Tests - A recent study found that by using a combination of a special MRI and a blood test called LDH, the diagnosis of uterine sarcoma could be reliably made without any surgery.

What are the Treatment Options for Cancerous Fibroids?

Surgical removal of the uterus, or hysterectomy, is the best procedure for the treatment of cancerous fibroids.

Can Anything be Done to Prevent or Lower the Risk of Developing Cancer?

Unfortunately, the development of uterine fibroids cannot be prevented, basically because the cause of fibroids is still not clearly known. However, research is underway and in the near future it is expected that enough will be known about uterine fibroids to prevent the growth of cancerous fibroids.

Other studies involving Black women, who have a slightly higher rate of fibroid incidents than other racial groups, revealed that the risk of occurrence of uterine fibroids could be lowered by:

  • Exercising regularly to keep ones weight under check
  • Consuming green vegetables and fruits
  • Using the combined birth control pill (oestrogen and progestogen) to keep hormone levels from peaking and falling. However, the pill is associated with some side effects and shouldn’t be taken without a prescription.

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