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Fibroid Risk for Black Women is Epidemic, But You Might Not Know It

Posted on August 08, 2023

Maybe you've heard that the fibroid risk for black women is higher. In fact, black women are more than three times as likely to develop these uterine tumors than women of other races. But those are just the measured numbers. In reality, we now know that fibroids, non-cancerous growths in your uterus, often go unnoticed.

As a result, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) calls fibroids a “hidden” epidemic. And late Rep. Stephanie Tubs Jones, who was Ohio’s first black female representative in Congress, called it a “silent epidemic.” In fact, the situation has gotten worse for all women, as rates of fibroid diagnosis have risen by about 50% in the last five years, due in part to delayed childbirth, environmental exposures, and other risk factors for fibroids. Even still, the epidemic impacts black women more than any other female population in this country. Here’s why:

What Makes Fibroids Silent? shh animation

Let’s review: many women with fibroids experience symptoms like pelvic pain, heavy periods or periods that last longer than normal. Many of these women also experience fertility challenges.

But, as it turns out, these fibroid symptoms only impact about 20% of women with the growths. Which means that as many as 80% of fibroid sufferers aren’t aware they’ve got a problem. Why is that a big deal?

While fibroids may start off on the smaller side, they often don’t stay that way.  And, as they grow, symptoms might pop up. What does that mean? Women often don’t notice fibroids until they’re quite large, which may limit their treatment options.

Why is the Fibroid Risk for Black Women Higher?

There's so much we don't know about why some women develop fibroids and others don't. That's largely because we don't know exactly why fibroids develop in the first place. But no matter what, we know that black women develop fibroids more frequently than all other groups of women. And we want to know why that's the case.

There are several theories that may explain why the elevated fibroid risk for black women. One is that hair products that are marketed for black women contain harmful chemicals. And those chemicals can increase your fibroid risk.

Recently, a new theory emerged, and it has to do with the environment. In a study in Human Reproduction, researchers discovered a link between air pollution, black women and increased fibroid risk. The study spent 14 years following the health of 22,000 pre-menopausal black women living in 56 cities across the United States. At the same time, researchers tracked the levels of three different air pollutants in those cities. And what they found was surprising.

About 30% of the female participants were diagnosed with fibroids over the course of the study. That rate is on par with what we'd expect from that study size. But here's the interesting part: when atmospheric ozone levels rose, so did the women's fibroid risk.

Understanding the Risks

Given this discovery, study author Amelia Wesselink, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health, couldn't explain why ozone was the major problem. But she did suggest that ozone may reduce your vitamin D levels. And we've already linked vitamin D deficiency to fibroid risk.

Right now, the new findings just give us one new clue in the fibroid risk puzzle. But Wesselink now wants to screen larger populations to help us better understand the connection. Of course, that could help us diagnose the many women who are living with fibroids and don't know it. So, you may want to consider getting screened for fibroids. Especially if you live in a polluted city. And especially if you want to explore less-invasive treatment options, which often work best when fibroids are caught early on.

What are my Fibroid Treatment Options?

How we treat your fibroids will depend on your individual symptoms. At our practice, we offer Uterine Fibroid Embolization, a minimally invasive fibroid treatment. If you are interested in this treatment, here’s the steps you need to take: gather information, talk to your healthcare provider, and request a consultation with our doctors!

We have plenty of information about UFE on our website, and your OB-Gyn may be able to discuss other treatment options. It’s important for you to know that UFE is one of the few options which won’t require a hospital stay or general anesthetic.

It also allows you to keep your uterus, unlike a hysterectomy, which is an all-too-common fibroid treatment. If all of this sounds good to you, then we invite you to request a consultation. At this time, we are happy to offer Telemedicine appointments, so we can begin your fibroid treatment process without making you leave your house!


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