What you Need to Know about Fibroids, Menopause and Cancer

Why do fibroids, menopause and cancer risk go together? Let’s explore that connection today! Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that develop in and on your uterus. We don’t know why some women get fibroids while others don’t. What’s clear is that between 40 and 80% of women will develop fibroids in their life. And that certain factors increase your risk. These include starting your period early, too much caffeine or alcohol, hormonal fluctuations, obesity, poor diet and race. (Black women are three times more likely than white women to develop fibroids!)

So, that’s what we know about getting fibroids. And now, we know something new about fibroids and your cancer risk. According to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, women with fibroids are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.

woman researching online

Again, the reason for this risk increase isn’t clear. But study authors suggest the connection may be your female hormone levels. Regardless of the reasons, one this is certain. Even if you treat your uterine fibroids, you should always mention your fibroid history to your doctor, since these growths could impact other areas of your health.

Now, if you have fibroids, your healthcare provider may say that you need a hysterectomy. That could be problematic, because of the cancer risks involved with entering menopause. (More on that in a minute.)

But, new scientific evidence shows that untreated fibroids raise your risk for breast cancer. In fact, according to data from a new Taiwanese study, women with fibroids have a 35% breast cancer rate than women without these growths. Of course, that’s a scary statistic, but here’s some good news. Even though women with fibroids are more likely to get breast cancer, they’re less likely to die from it.

Fibroids and Breast Cancer Risk

What’s behind this rise in breast cancer risk for women with fibroids? We’re not exactly sure. But it seems to be connected to your hormones. Because researchers now think that certain hormonal imbalances that trigger fibroid growth could also trigger breast cancer development.

Still, this doesn’t explain why women with fibroids are less likely to die from breast cancer. Now, we don’t have a solid answer to that question. But it seems that women with fibroids may detect their cancer earlier. (Perhaps because of more frequent doctor visits.) And that fact improves survival rates.

Of course, even when detected early on, breast cancer is a devastating disease. For that reason, treating your fibroids could be an important way to lower your risk for this type of cancer. But if you decide to treat them by surgically removing your uterus, you will automatically enter menopause. And, according to new research, when your body enters menopause, your risk for endometrial cancer rises significantly.

The Connection between Fibroids, Menopause and Cancer

We already know that endometrial cancer mostly impacts women over 60. And it’s also clear that these women are almost universally in menopause. So, we had an idea that this cancer was connected to menopause.

But now, thanks to a study in Scientific Reports, we know that menopause is actually a trigger for this cancer risk. In fact, Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that menopause changes your vagina’s microbiome. (A microbiome is simply a description of the micro-organisms in any environment.) And these changes increase your endometrial cancer risk.

In the U.S., endometrial cancer is fourth most common among women. And, unfortunately, this cancer’s rates are rising. What that suggests is that changes in our environment, including diet, lifestyle, and the vaginal microbiome, may be responsible for this uptick.

According to Marina Walther-Antonio, Ph.D., lead author of the study, finding these changes is crucial. That’s because, she believes,  “This could have important implications for endometrial cancer prevention.”

How to Fight Endometrial Cancer

In the wake of this discovery, researchers can now identify several main risk factors for endometrial cancer. They include: Obesity, post-menopausal status and—the newest addition to the list—a high pH level in your vagina.

Plus, Dr. Walther-Antonio says, “We have determined that all of these factors impact the reproductive tract microbiome, further identified post menopause as a key factor, and are looking ahead to discuss potential translational applications of this knowledge, which may bring new approaches to address current health disparities in endometrial cancer,” says Dr. Walther-Antonio.

The goal of the study was to understand how endometrial cancer risk factors alter the reproductive tract microbiome and endometrial cancer risk. We now clearly see that menopause is a factor in your endometrial cancer risk. Which means that you should carefully consider all your fibroid treatment options before choosing one that will prematurely trigger menopause. For more information on less invasive fibroid treatment options, we invite you to schedule a consult with our Houston area fibroid specialists.

Sources: International Journal of Women’s Health, The Mayo Clinic, Journal of Scientific Reports, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Oncotarget

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