It is estimated that one in four women will develop uterine fibroids in her lifetime, most commonly during the childbearing years. A uterine fibroid is a smooth, rubbery mass that grows in the muscular tissue that makes up the wall of the uterus.
Many women who have fibroids never have symptoms, although those who do may experience heavy or irregular bleeding, pelvic pain, backaches, bloating, urinary frequency and trouble conceiving.
"It's so important for women who are having irregularities or discomfort with their periods to seek out gynecologic care sooner rather than later," explains obstetrician/gynecologist Dominick M. Giuffrida, Jr., DO, FACOG. "The earlier fibroids are detected, the easier they are to treat. Small fibroids can often be treated hormonally. If that proves ineffective, we can perform a hysteroscopic resection of the fibroad, which basically means we shave down the fibroid.
"If undiagnosed or untreated, fibroids grow larger, and can become a much greater threat," adds Dr. Giuffrida. "They can lead to infertility, or create preterm labor or other problems with pregnancy. Some women are unable to deliver naturally and require a C-section. In some cases, fibroids may lead to a hysterectomy."
In fact, uterine fibroid tumors are responsible for more than 200,000 hysterectomies a year in the United States.
With larger fibroids, for women who are not consideing pregnancy, a vascular procedure called a uterine artery embolization can be performed, using a catheter to shrink the fibroid.
For women who are thinking of becoming pregnant, a surgical resection of the fibroid can be performed. Both procedures involve a minimally invasive surgical approach, which equates to significantly less discomfort for the patient and faster healing time.