A few months ago my mom was diagnosed with a fibroid tumor, and while I wasn’t too worried, my family heard the word tumor and you know what their minds went to, cancer. That’s when I realized that many people don’t understand that a tumor doesn’t have to mean cancer, a tumor is just a growth. The only reason the doctors even knew my mom had a fibroid tumor was it was causing issues.
This often raises the questions though, what is a fibroid tumor and what should I be worried about? Thankfully with a fibroid tumor there is very little need to worry. There is very little risk of malignancy, meaning there is very little risk of it being a cancerous tumor. There are also many different options you have when it comes to treating a fibroid tumor. I will talk about all of these in this post.
What is a fibroid tumor?
A fibroid tumor is just a bunch of muscle fibroids that have come together to form a mass. Fibroid tumors generally happen between the ages of 30 to 40 and most often affect african american women. There has been a genetic component found, meaning that fibroid tumors may run in families. All fibroid tumors are the same, but they are classified by where they are, which I won’t get into at this time.
What are the symptoms of a fibroid tumor?
This is really a loaded question, and one that isn’t really an easy answer because every woman is different. It is thought that about 80% of women will have a fibroid tumor by the time they are 50, but you can have a fibroid tumor and have no symptoms at all. For this reason, there is no reason to worry unless you are having symptoms, and then you shouldn’t worry too much because treatment is relatively easy.
There are times that a fibroid tumor will cause symptoms. This is usually when a woman will chose some kind of treatment. The symptoms of a fibroid tumor include:
- Heavy bleeding, either between periods or during periods, that may or may not include blood clots. This bleeding could also just be prolonged bleeding for what you think is just a long period, but it happens every month
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis and/or back caused by the pressure of the mass
- Abdominal swelling (hard to see in obese women)
- Increased menstrual cramping
- Increased urination, again caused by the pressure of the mass on your bladder
- Pressure on your rectum
- Constipation, caused by the pressure on your rectum, making it harder to get stool out
- Pain during intercourse
How do I know it’s a fibroid tumor and not something worse?
Chances are, if you are having no symptoms you will not even know you have a fibroid tumor. It may be accidentally found at your routine annual examination. If you are having complications you may decide to go to your doctor before it is time for your annual exam.
In both of these scenarios your doctor will do a pelvic exam. Depending on the size of the fibroid tumor your doctor may or may not be able to feel it upon examination. If you are having symptoms and he doesn’t feel anything, or he feels a mass, no matter if you are having symptoms or not, you will need further testing.
Generally, the only testing that needs done is an ultrasound. Other times your doctor will want an MRI if the ultrasound doesn’t show a clear enough picture. He may want to do an aspiration of the tumor to make sure it is a fibroid tumor and not a cancerous tumor if you are not having symptoms or treating the tumor.
How is a fibroid tumor treated?
There are many options for treating a fibroid tumor and what direction you go depends on if the tumor is causing any issues and if you are looking to having children in the future.
The simplest and least invasive way to treat a fibroid tumor is by doing nothing. While this seems like a great idea because you are not undergoing surgery or taking medications, if you are having symptoms caused by the fibroid tumor your doctor may suggest a different treatment option. If you are not having any complications, then you can go on living your life.
If you are having some symptoms, your doctor may start by suggesting taking medication to slow the growth, and even possibly shrink, the tumor. Hormones are thought to be the reason for the growth of fibroid tumors, because of that, birth control pills and intrauterine devices are sometimes used to help regulate hormones and control bleeding. This is a good option for a woman who is not finished having children yet.
Surgery is the final option, but there are many different options when it comes to surgery. You can have a surgery to remove just the fibroid tumors, which will leave the uterus intact and make it possible for you to be able have children in the future.
Another surgical option is a uterine artery embolization. This is just a fancy way of saying they will cut off the blood flow to the tumor and it will shrink and die over time. This procedure can increase the risk of preterm labor so it is best for women who are finished having children.
MRI guided ultrasound is a procedure that uses converted ultrasound waves to heat and destroy the tumor. This option is minimally invasive, but it can take several treatments and each treatment can take several hours. This is a relatively new procedure, so the risks to childbearing are unknown; for this reason, this procedure is recommended for those who are done having children.
The last surgical option is a hysterectomy. There are a couple of options here. Your doctor can perform a traditional hysterectomy, where the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are removed, but there are complications with this. If you have not hit menopause yet you will be thrown into menopause as soon as you are out of surgery because you no longer have the organs that provide you with those hormones. The other option is to just have your uterus removed, leaving the ovaries and fallopian tubes, letting your body naturally transition into menopause. With both of these options you will not be able to bear children, so this option is only for women who have finished having children.
For the most part these surgeries can all be be done vaginally, but this will depend on your doctor’s preference and the size of the tumor. If it is too large your doctor may have to do a traditional abdominal incision. With a vaginal surgery most women are back home within a couple of days and back to a normal routine after 2 weeks, while the abdominal surgery takes 6 weeks or more to heal from. If there are complications though, your recovery can be different from this. Also, keep in mind that if the other treatment options do no work you may have no choice but to have surgery.
When you hear the word tumor it is easy to start worrying about cancer, but with fibroid tumors there is virtually no risk of cancer. Treatment is relatively easy with very little down time generally. It is important to discuss all your options with your doctor to choose the best one for you.
Have you ever had a fibroid tumor? Did you instantly think about cancer when you heard the diagnosis? How did you decide to treat it and how did it work out for you?