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Home > Learn > FYI > >Are Uterine Fibroids Cancerous?

Are Uterine Fibroids Cancerous?

Dec 14, 23 7 min

By Halle Tecco, MBA, MPH

Many people, including myself, grapple with the reality of fibroids, which are growths (aka tumors) that emerge within the uterus. For many, fibroids can be a source of anxiety, discomfort, and a host of troublesome symptoms. Amongst these concerns, you may also be wondering: Are fibroids cancerous? Or do they increase the chances of cancer? Let's dive into this important topic.

What Are Fibroids?

Fibroids, also known as leiomyomas or "myomas,” are muscular tumors that develop in the uterine wall. These growths can vary greatly in size, from as minuscule as an apple seed to as large as a grapefruit, and occasionally, they can grow even larger. [1-3]

It's estimated that between 20% and 80% of women will develop fibroids by the time they reach 50, with a higher prevalence among women in their 40s and early 50s. [1]

According to Dr. Nazaneen Homaifar, providers characterize fibroids based on their location. They can be [1-2]: 

  • Submucosal: within the inner lining of the uterus (called the endometrium)
  • Intramural/transmural: spanning the middle lining of the uterus
  • Subserosal: right under the outer layer of the uterus
  • Pedunculated: coming off the exterior uterus, cervix, or broad ligament with a stalk

If you suspect you may have fibroids, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider for a full assessment.

Natalist illustration showing location of various uterine fibroids

Fibroid Symptoms

Not everyone with fibroids will experience symptoms. [1-2] For those who do experience signs or symptoms, common issues include [1-3]: 

  • Severe pain
  • Anemia (a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells)
  • Heavy menstrual cycles
  • Bleeding between periods
  • A constant urge to urinate due to bladder pressure
  • Rectal pressure if the fibroids are near the rectum
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain
  • Reproductive problems, such as infertility, recurrent miscarriages, and early labor
  • Enlargement of the lower abdomen

Are Fibroids Cancerous?

While fibroids are tumors, they are almost always benign, meaning they are not cancerous. [1-3] The risk of a fibroid being cancerous is very low. The Office on Women’s Health states that cancerous fibroids occur In less than one in 1,000 cases. [1] When fibroids are cancerous, they are classified as leiomyosarcomas. [1]

Having fibroids doesn't increase the risk of leiomyosarcomas. [1] Moreover, the presence of fibroids in the uterus doesn't heighten the likelihood of encountering other types of uterine cancer. [1]

It's important for women with fibroids, especially those experiencing symptoms, to have regular medical check-ups. [1-3] A healthcare provider can monitor fibroids for changes in size or symptoms and provide guidance on treatment options if necessary. 

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Treatment Options for Fibroids

It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider if you are concerned that you have fibroids or you’re interested in fibroid treatment. In most cases, treatment is focused on symptom management rather than the fibroids themselves, unless they pose a health risk or cause significant discomfort. [2]

Surgery

Treatment options for fibroids include hysterectomy, which can be done via a large incision in the abdomen, or through laparoscopy, which requires smaller incisions and offers a quicker recovery. [1,2] When using laparoscopy, the fibroids may need to be broken into smaller pieces for removal. A surgical technique to do this is called laparoscopic power morcellation. [4]

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about the risks associated with laparoscopic power morcellation. The FDA warns that if a woman undergoing this procedure also has undetected uterine cancer, such as uterine sarcoma, the technique could inadvertently spread the cancer within the abdomen and pelvis, complicating treatment. [4]

The FDA warns healthcare providers against using laparoscopic power morcellators in gynecologic surgeries to treat patients who have cancer or are over 50 years of age having a myomectomy or hysterectomy for fibroids.[4]

Medications

Prescription medications such as hormonal birth control, IUDs, hormone blockers, or hormone modulators can all be used to treat fibroids. [1,2] These medications may help manage symptoms such as heavy or painful periods, or may even be able to shrink fibroids. [1] 

It is important to note that some types of birth control have the potential to cause fibroids to grow. [5] This is because fibroids are estrogen-dependent, and certain birth control options contain estrogen. [5] Low-dose birth control and progestin-only devices such as IUDs can relieve heavy or painful bleeding without encouraging fibroid growth. [1,5] 

Hormone agonists work to block the body from creating specific hormones. [1,2] These can reduce the size of fibroids, but their effects on hormone production may lead to symptoms similar to menopause and will stop ovulation and menstruation from occurring. [2] Hormone modulators can slow or stop the growth of fibroids and reduce symptoms. [2] 

Most medical treatments can only provide temporary relief from symptoms, and fibroids may grow or return after treatment stops. [1,2] You should speak to your healthcare provider about your options. 

Vitamins and Supplements

When it comes to potentially managing and reducing the risk of fibroids, the role of vitamins and dietary supplements has garnered increasing attention in recent research. Research indicates that maintaining adequate levels of certain vitamins, such as vitamin D, may decrease the risk of developing fibroids as well as improve fibroid size and associated symptoms. [6-7]

These vitamins include [6-7]:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

While these vitamins can be beneficial, they are part of a broader approach to managing fibroids under the supervision of your healthcare team. [1,2,6,7] You should always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Key Takeaways

  • Fibroids are almost always benign, meaning they are NOT cancerous
  • Rarely (less than one in 1,000) a cancerous fibroid will occur
  • Having fibroids doesn't increase the risk of uterine cancer
  • There are surgical and medication treatment options
  • Some research shows that adequate levels of certain vitamins and supplements may decrease the risk of developing fibroids

You should always speak directly to a healthcare provider if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, or you have questions about your fertility and overall health. There is still an ample amount of research that needs to be completed to better understand the causes, treatment, and prevention methods for uterine fibroids. 

In need of tasty vitamin D gummies, self-care products, or other fertility and pregnancy items? We’ve got you covered! Explore our full collection of products or visit the Natalist blog to learn more:



Halle Tecco is the Founder of Natalist. She is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School, the host of The Heart of Healthcare Podcast, and a Board Member at Resolve. Halle has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC. She was named as one of Goldman Sachs’ Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs and listed on the Forbes 30 under 30. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her MPH from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in Women's and Reproductive Health.


Sources:

  1. Uterine fibroids. Office on Women’s Health.Accessed November 2023. URL.
  2. Uterine Fibroids. NIH. Office of Communications. Accessed November 2023. URL
  3. What are the symptoms of uterine fibroids? NIH. Office of Communications. Accessed November 2023. URL.
  4. Laparoscopic Power Morcellators. FDA. Accessed November 2023. URL.
  5. Kwas K, Nowakowska A, Fornalczyk A, et al. Impact of Contraception on Uterine Fibroids. Medicina (Kaunas). 2021;57(7):717. Published 2021 Jul 16. doi:10.3390/medicina57070717
  6. Dalton-Brewer, N. The Role of Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the Management of Fibroids and Associated Symptomatology. Curr Obstet Gynecol Rep 5, 110–118 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13669-016-0156-0
  7. Ciebiera M, Ali M, Zgliczyńska M, Skrzypczak M, Al-Hendy A. Vitamins and Uterine Fibroids: Current Data on Pathophysiology and Possible Clinical Relevance. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(15):5528. Published 2020 Aug 1. doi:10.3390/ijms21155528
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