During your routine pelvic exam, your doctor tells you that you have uterine fibroids. It sounds scary, but is it?
"It is important for women to know that uterine fibroids are almost always benign or noncancerous," says Dr. Craig Saffer, medical director of minimally invasive surgery at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. "They are firm growths, or tumors, that develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus. Their size, shape and location vary tremendously."
Fibroids are most common in women ages 40 to 50, but can occur at any age. After menopause, they usually shrink. Most women with uterine fibroids have mild symptoms or none at all and never need treatment. For some women, however, that is not the case.
While nearly 3 in 4 women will develop fibroids in their lifetime, they are more common in African-American women. In this population, they develop at a younger age and grow more rapidly.
When to see a doctor
Fibroids can be difficult to live with for women who suffer from severe symptoms such as:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Painful periods
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area, rectum, lower back or abdomen
- Bloated feeling or appearance
- Frequent urination
- Painful intercourse
- Complications during pregnancy
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
If you want to become pregnant in the future, your doctor will consider the size and location of the fibroids, your age and how close to menopause you might be, since women with fibroids may have trouble during both pregnancy and childbirth.
The good news is that there are treatment options that can help women with severe symptoms.
Medication options include over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for mild pain, and prescription medications to help manage other symptoms.
When medication and noninvasive procedures are unable to relieve a patient's symptoms, surgery remains the accepted and most effective treatment.
A myomectomy is the surgical removal of uterine fibroids without removing the uterus. Your doctor may perform this procedure laparoscopically — inserting tools through small incisions to remove the fibroids with the assistance of minimally invasive robotic instruments. Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may occasionally opt for traditional "open" surgery using a larger incision.
According to Dr. Saffer, robotic-assisted surgery is a better choice for many women.
"Robotic-assisted surgery requires only a few small incisions in the abdomen, while traditional surgery requires a larger open cut," explains Dr. Saffer. "Because robotic-assisted surgery is less invasive, there is a quicker recovery time, shorter hospital stay, less scarring, less blood loss, fewer complications and significantly less pain. It is especially promising for women who would like to have children in the future."
If you suffer from uterine fibroids, talk with your doctor about whether robotic-assisted surgery is the appropriate treatment for you.