Around the country, women’s health organizations have been trying to raise awareness of uterine fibroids, the most common cause of benign tumors suffered by women of childbearing age. And as more women and healthcare providers look for solutions, healthcare companies are stepping up their investment in treating the condition. This July, Georgia is hosting “Fibroid Awareness Month” to highlight the millions of U.S. women who “suffer in silence” each year.
Although uterine fibroids are benign tumors, they can cause pain and discomfort, extremely heavy periods (which in turn can cause anemia), constipation and frequent urination. In addition, they are the leading cause of hysterectomies, the surgical removal of the uterus. By some estimates, one in two U.S. women will suffer from uterine fibroids in their lifetime.
Doctors have also recently discovered that uterine fibroids disproportionately affect African-American women. A 2013 study by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine determined that black women experienced an average of 9.9 fibroids, compared to 4.5 fibroids in white women.
As awareness of this health problem grows, companies are investing tens of millions of dollars in non-surgical treatment options. The most common treatment for uterine fibroids are hysterectomies, an extremely invasive surgery that causes the early onset of menopause. Recently, radiofrequency ablation techniques like the Acessa method have provided a non-invasive alternative, an outpatient procedure that allows women to recover in five to nine days.
In radiofrequency ablation treatments, doctors use a combination of ultrasounds and heat to shrink fibroids so they can be reabsorbed by the body. Such non-invasive radiofrequency treatments have proven so popular that this July, women’s healthcare company Gynesonics announced they raised $43 million to further develop their non-invasive treatment options.
There are also medicines available to help manage symptomatic uterine fibroids. Some commonly prescribed medications include “gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa),” such as Lupron and Soladex.
Uterine fibroids commonly affect women in their 30s and 40s, although they sometimes shrink naturally during menopause. If you suspect you may be suffering from uterine fibroid symptoms like particularly heavy periods, consult your doctor.