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Uterine fibroids are noncancerous (benign) tumors that develop in the womb (uterus), a female reproductive organ. Uterine fibroids are common. As many as 1 in 5 women may have fibroids during their childbearing years (the time after starting menstruation for the first time and before menopause). Half of all women have fibroids by age 50. Fibroids are rare in women under age 20. They are more common in African-Americans than Caucasians.
The cause of uterine fibroids is unknown. However, their growth has been linked to the hormone estrogen. As long as a woman with fibroids is menstruating, a fibroid will probably continue to grow, usually slowly. Fibroids can be so tiny that you need a microscope to see them. However, they can grow very large. They may fill the entire uterus, and may weigh several pounds. Although it is possible for just one fibroid to develop, usually there are more than one. Fibroids are often described by their location in the uterus:
More common symptoms of uterine fibroids are:
Note: There are often no symptoms. Your health care provider may find them during a physical exam or other test. Fibroids often shrink and cause no symptoms in women who have gone through menopause.
The health care provider will perform a pelvic exam. This may show that you have a change in the shape of your womb (uterus). It can be difficult to diagnose fibroids, especially if you are extremely overweight. An ultrasound may be done to confirm the diagnosis of fibroids. Sometimes, a pelvic MRI is done. An endometrial biopsy (biopsy of the uterine lining) or laparoscopy may be needed to rule out cancer.
Treatment depends on several things, including:
Some women may just need pelvic exams or ultrasounds every once in a while to monitor the fibroid's growth. Treatment for the symptoms of fibroids may include:
Surgery and procedures used to treat fibroids include: