Uterine fibroids are a serious health concern for many black women. Statistics show that around 40 in every 100 females will develop fibroids[i], but for Afro-Caribbean women they are two-three times more common and also tend to be larger and more numerous.[ii]
Around one in every three women with fibroids experience some symptoms, which can have a serious impact on quality of life.[iii] [iv] Symptoms can include heavy, long and painful periods, bleeding between periods, feeling ‘full’ in the lower part of the stomach, pain or discomfort during sex, problems getting pregnant and miscarriages.1
The Voice has partnered with fibroidsconnect.com – a website that gives patients information about fibroids[v] – to raise awareness of the condition and encourage sufferers to seek help. As part of our campaign, we would like to speak with women who are interested in being a case study. To get involved, see the end of this article.
Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) lumps and they most often occur in women between 30 and 50 years old, although they can develop in older and younger women.1 The exact causes are unknown, but fibroids and their growth rate are linked to the hormone oestrogen.1
The reasons why fibroids tend to be more prevalent amongst Afro-Caribbean women are also unclear, although research is currently looking into this.
Explained Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Mr Akobundu Nnochiri, who specialises in treating fibroids in Afro-Caribbean women: “Fibroids are a real issue for many black women. Not only are they more prevalent but also they tend to be much larger. We’re not certain of the reasons why, but there is a suggestion that it may be connected to the age at which Afro-Caribbean women start their menstruation, which is known to be earlier in black women.”
How fibroids are treated depends on the individual, taking into account age, the severity of their symptoms, the size, number and exact location of the fibroids, and also whether the woman wishes to become pregnant in the future.
Treatments include medicines, such as drugs to reduce the bleeding, and tablets that shrink the fibroids and reduce bleeding before surgery. Operations and non-surgical procedures are also used to treat fibroids and these range from procedures to shrink and remove the fibroids, to the removal of the womb.
Early diagnosis of fibroids is important, as they can be more difficult to treat if left unmanaged. Research has shown that it can take several years before some women get a proper diagnosis – often waiting up to five years before speaking to a doctor about their symptoms.4
And as increasing numbers of women are opting to have children later[vi], fibroids can be a problem, as not only do they tend to develop as women get older, but they can also impact on fertility. It is therefore crucial that women go and see their doctor, as earlier diagnosis is vital if they want to start a family in their 30s or 40s.
Added Mr Nnochiri, a consultant at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust: “The women that I see do tend to come to me a lot later, when their fibroids are quite big and difficult to remove. Also, for some cultural reasons, many women do not want to have a hysterectomy and leave the fibroids, which can lead to them growing and becoming larger.”
“There are many different treatment options available for women and major surgery is not always needed. There are now drugs available that can shrink the fibroids so they can be removed by less invasive procedures.”
“If you are suffering from painful and heavy periods and suspect something may not be right, go and see you doctor and get a scan, as the sooner fibroids are diagnosed, the easier they can be to treat.”
[i] NHS Choices 1, Fibroids, at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Fibroids/Pages/Introduction.aspx (accessed January, 2015)
[ii] BFT British Fibroid Trust, What is Fibroid?, http://www.britishfibroidtrust.org.uk/whatis.php (accessed January, 2015)
[iii] Spies B., et al. The UFS-QOL, a New Disease-Specific Symptom and Health-Related Quality of Life Questionnaire for Leiomyomata, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2002; 99 (2): 290-300
[iv] Downes E., et al. The burden of uterine fibroids in five European countries. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology. 2010; 152(1): 96-102
[vi] Office for National Statistics. Live Births in England and Wales by Characteristics of Mother 1, 2012http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/characteristics-of-Mother-1–england-and-wales/2012/sb-characteristics-of-mother-1–2012.html#tab-Timing-of-childbearing (accessed January, 2015)
UK/ESM5/1113/0057(3)b – March 2015