But although uterine fibroids are extremely common, especially in women of reproductive age, in actuality, this disease may not be as difficult to cure as is generally feared or assumed.
Benign uterine growths or tumours can be in the form of a polyp, or can be a fibroid muscle tissue mass (it may have a stalk or stem-like base), that develops in the muscular wall of the uterus, and can protrude into the uterus itself, as well. This can occur in women of any age, even in younger women, but is most common in women of reproductive age.
Generally speaking, any woman is capable of developing a uterine fibroid, as, again, it is something that can affect women of all ages.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge is a primary symptoms of uterine fibroids. The kinds of symptoms experienced by patients depend on the location and the size of the tumour. Other common symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis, heavy menstrual pain requiring pain medication or pain to the point of being unable to work or function normally, and bladder pressure leading to a frequent urge to urinate. These are all warning signs for which to watch; however, some women may not experience any symptoms or indications whatsoever.
The exact cause of uterine fibroids is still unclear, as it is generally observed that these types of tumours can occur at any time. It does, however, seem that there are some factors contributing to the development of fibroids in the uterus, and one of these is hormones. The female sex hormone, oestrogen, appears to promote the growth of these kinds of tumours, which explains why they occur more frequently in women of reproductive age.
In some cases, if left untreated, uterine fibroids can cause heavy bleeding and possibly infertility.
Currently, the standard treatment option is what is known as a hysteroscopy procedure, during which a hysteroscope, equipped with a miniature camera and light at the end of a tube, only about two millimetres in diameter, is inserted into the vagina in order to examine the cervix and the inside of the uterus. If larger growths are found, a larger diameter camera with a thin electric wire loop attached may then be inserted and an electric current is used to cut the fibroid or polyp into small pieces that can then be removed through the cervix without affecting any other parts of the body.
Treatment of uterine fibroids by using a far safer and more convenient option is the primary benefit. Patients experience minimal pain, and, importantly, a shorter recovery period.
The recuperation period after this type of surgery is just one to days, after which the patient can return to work as usual. Minimally invasive surgery is, therefore, a favoured solution that meets the needs of today’s women who have greater responsibilities, both in the workplace and at home.
For women planning to have children, the issue of uterine fibroids is not one to be complacent about or to leave unattended. Women should undergo regular annual health check-ups, as uterine fibroids can develop at any time.
Annual health check-ups will help to catch and treat this disease in time, and are the best means of prevention. Now that we are more aware of the dangers and treatments of uterine fibroids, we can clearly see that, they need not be as great a source of fear or concern as was once thought.
If or when uterine fibroids occur, medical science is now able to remedy the problem more easily and safely than ever before.
DR SOSAKUL BUNYAVIROCH is an Oncology and Gynaecologic Endoscopic Surgeon attached to the Women’s Health Centre of Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital. Call (02) 022 2555-6.