Black women get fibroids more than any other women on the planet. And, did you know that African American women have some of the worst fibroid experiences? These are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around your uterus.
Fibroids are composed of muscle tissue. You can develop one or many fibroids. They may be small or large. And, while some women don’t even know they have fibroids, others experience symptoms that significantly interfere with their lives. These include heavy periods, pelvic pain, frequent urination and/or constipation, and pain during sex.
Why Do Black Women get Fibroids More Often?
We still don’t know why some women develop fibroids, while others don’t. But we do know that Black and African women develop fibroids three times more often than white women. That’s why our own Dr. Eric Hardee is spreading the word about why black women have an increased fibroid risk.
Sadly, the bad news doesn’t end there. Because, when they do develop, those fibroids are likely to be large and symptomatic.
Tanika Gray Valbrun, founder of The White Dress Project, is one of those women. She was 23 when she received a fibroid diagnosis, but she’d already had years of pain. Today, at 42, she continues to fight for fibroid awareness. She wants the world to take this health challenge seriously, pointing out that the WHO (World Health Organization) doesn’t even share fibroid information on its website.
This is a shocking discrepancy since the site offers extensive information on other conditions affecting women, including infertility.
Valbrun recently told CNN, “I just don’t understand it, like, if so many Black women have fibroids, why aren’t more people talking about it? Why aren’t there so many walks and campaigns like there are for other medical conditions?” she said.
Lack of awareness is a problem for many black women who get fibroids. But so is the period stigma that’s still prevalent in many African cultures.
That’s something Ghanain Nana Konamah is working to change. In 2019, she and friend Jessica Nabongo made a documentary to help women understand how fibroids can impact so many aspects of women’s lives. At the same time, she’s trying to eliminate period stigma so that women speak up about symptoms and get diagnosed.
Early diagnosis is crucial. And it’s equally important to understand your fibroid treatment options! Because, according to the most recent CDC data, 33 percent of Black women ages 48-50 had a hysterectomy. In contrast, only 3 percent of white women in that age group removed their uterus. And when it comes to younger women? The gaps are even more startling. Among women ages 33-45, 12 percent of Black women had a hysterectomy. And white women? Only 4 percent in that age group chose this invasive surgery. That’s a major problem. We need to do better and help spread more fibroid knowledge, so all women know their fibroid treatment options.
Increased Risk and Delayed Treatment
We don’t know the exact scientific evidence reason why African American women are more likely to develop uterine fibroids. Still, there are a number of theories.
First, because African American girls are more likely to start their period at a younger age, one such theory is that fact makes them more susceptible to fibroid development later in life. It could also explain why black women develop fibroids at a younger age than women of other races. Daughters are also three times as likely to have fibroids if their mother experienced them, which just completes this vicious circle.
Recently, the Black Women’s Health Study offered another theory. One interesting new idea was that black women’s increased fibroid risk was linked to childhood trauma. Something that is devastating for us to learn.
And here’s the worse news. More African American women have fibroids, and severe fibroid symptoms, they don’t get help quickly. In fact, studies show that African American women reported taking an average of four years to seek fibroid treatment
How to Treat Uterine Fibroids
Unfortunately, African American women are not only three times more likely to develop uterine fibroids but they are also more likely to have larger and more densely populated fibroid tumors, so the treatment options can be different. While African American women diagnosed with fibroids are twice as likely to have a hysterectomy as Caucasian women, it’s important that those diagnosed with uterine fibroids are given comprehensive treatment options.
- Non-invasive: include watchful waiting if you don’t experience symptoms, hormone treatments that may treat some symptoms, or an ultrasound procedure.
- Less invasive: include uterine fibroid embolization, or endometrial ablation, which removes the lining of the uterine.
- Surgical: include a myomectomy in which the fibroids are surgically removed, or a hysterectomy where the entire uterus is removed. The more invasive a surgery, the more room there is for complications.
Talk to your gynecologist and our fibroid specialists about the symptoms you’re experiencing to help decide on your best approach to treatment.