Just before she made history as the first female VP, Kamala Harris introduced a new fibroid bill. Why? After all these years, we still don’t know why women develop these non-cancerous tumors. Thankfully, the Senator’s bill to fund fibroid research and education will change all that. (So long as our newly-elected representatives choose to do so, that is!)
Senator Harris told Refinery 29, “Millions of women across the country are affected by uterine fibroids, which can present serious health complications. (These include) maternal mortality and morbidity, an ongoing crisis, especially for Black women.”
And she continued. “We have an opportunity to change that with the Uterine Fibroids Research and Education Act. I’m proud to work with Congresswoman [Yvette] Clarke to ensure that women get the care, support, and knowledge they need.”
Behind the Scenes of That Bill
Yvette Clarke named this bill in honor of Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the late Ohio congresswoman who initiated the bill previously. As the first Black woman to chair the Committee on Ethics, she also focused her years of service on championing women’s health concerns. So it’s only natural that she was concerned about fibroid education in this country. At that a bill to increase fibroid awareness would be named in her honor.
The Gap in Fibroid Research
Here’s the problem. Up to 80% of women develop fibroids before they turn 50. In fact, 26 million women between the ages of 15 and 50 have uterine fibroids now. And more than 15 million have painful fibroid symptoms.
But we still don’t know why. Further complicating the problem? Black women develop fibroids more frequently. But they face a healthcare gap. Doctors often discount or downplay their pain and symptoms. Which is why part of the bill includes funding for community fibroid education.
Recently, Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly shared her thoughts on the bill’s importance. She said, “Health education is an empowerment tool for women to ensure that they can make informed health decisions that lead to a better life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. If women have more information, they can make better decisions about their own health.”
That’s even more important since fibroids look different in every woman. But common symptoms include pelvic pain and long, heavy periods. You may have constipation and/or frequent urination. Bloating and painful intercourse are also signs of fibroids. In some cases, you may go years without experiencing symptoms. Other times, your fibroids cause trouble immediately.
Again, it’s not clear why some women’s fibroids stay small. But other women’s growths disrupt their lives. And, as we know, when fibroid pain is severe, it can throw women’s lives off track. Going to school or work can become increasingly difficult. Which is something we all want to change.
Finding a Way Forward
Representative Clarke says, “This bill is an important first step towards making women’s healthcare a priority. Many women who suffer from uterine fibroids have their condition go undiagnosed as a result of a lack of education about the disease. Each year, approximately 7 million women in the U.S. suffer the symptoms of fibroids … This disease has ravaged the lives of women across the country, and increasing funding for research and public education related to fibroids is critical to reversing that trend. If we are serious about fixing inequities in our healthcare system, then we must treat uterine fibroids with the funding and attention it deserves.”
What’s Included in Senator Harris’ Fibroid Bill
To that end, the new bill asks to give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $30 million each year, for the next five years. The purpose? To expand uterine fibroids research, create a uterine fibroids public education program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and to expand and improve data collection on which groups are affected by uterine fibroids, among other aims.
It directs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prove information on available services for women who experience fibroid symptoms.
Finally, the bills asks the Health Resources and Service Administration to arm health care providers with fibroid information. These materials should highlight that women of color have elevated fibroid risks. And should include information on all available treatment options, including minimally invasive protocols like UFE.
The bill is supported by the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Association of Nurse Practitioners, the Fibroid Foundation, and many other organizations.
Strong Support for Fibroid Education
While the bill has many supporters, one key group of backers is The White Dress Project. We’ve talked about this organization quite a bit on the blog, because its goals align with our own: to help women understand all their treatment options.
Recently, Dr. John C Lipman of the Free from Fibroids Foundation spoke about the need to pass this bill. He sees this education bill as the only way to stop the numerous, avoidable, hysterectomies for fibroids. He says, “One aggressive driver of the excessive number of unnecessary hysterectomies for uterine fibroids is the significant resources and influence that the pharmaceutical and surgical device manufacturers have on physicians and hospitals to perpetuate this “status quo” of hysterectomy.”
This push is even worse, he says, because “I see patients every day who are suffering from fibroids and don’t want a hysterectomy. They simply want their life back. Hysterectomies take away a woman’s ability to bear children, but also do more to a woman’s body after the surgical wounds heal.
It’s time to challenge the outdated practice of performing life-changing, unnecessary hysterectomy without first considering much safer, less expensive, and less invasive non-surgical options like Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE).”
For those reasons, Dr. Lipman says, “Congress has an opportunity to help in this fight against fibroids and unnecessary hysterectomies and take an important step toward empowering and supporting women by passing the bipartisan Stephanie Tubbs Jones Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act of 2021 (S. 2444/H.R. 2007). This overdue legislation will provide research to try to find out where fibroids come from and how to prevent them and best treat them.”
Houston Fibroid Treatment Options
Today, we join in that call. And we thank Vice President Harris, Representative Clarke and all the women and organizations who advance fibroid awareness. Now, we invite you to explore all your fibroid treatment options before settling on an invasive surgery like a hysterectomy. And schedule an appointment with our Houston area fibroid specialists to see if you’re a candidate for UFE.
Sources: Yahoo!Life, Refinery 29