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Fibroids 101

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths made up of muscle cells and fibrous tissues that form inside the uterus. These growths range from tiny in size to as large as a large melon. It's estimated that around four in 10 women over the age of 40 will have fibroids. Many of these women have no symptoms. But if you suffer painful, heavy and/or lengthy bleeds, have backache, experience pain during sex or have a sudden increase in the need to urinate, fibroids may be to blame.

No one knows why fibroids develop, but it is believed that the hormones estrogen and progesterone play significant roles. This is because fibroids rarely grow in girls before they reach puberty and pre-existing fibroids generally shrink once a woman passes menopause.

Fibroids can be detected using an ultrasound, where sound waves create a two-dimensional picture. The inside of your uterus can be examined with a hysteroscope, which is a thin tube passed through the cervix (neck of the womb). A small camera may be placed at the tip of the hysteroscope, so that the interior of your uterus can be viewed on a monitor.

Treatment depends on the location, size and number of fibroids but may include:

* Medications
Your doctor may prescribe hormones to shrink the fibroids. If they are large, this is not always successful.

* Surgery
Your doctor may remove the fibroids via the cervix, using a hysteroscope or he or she may elect to perform a laproscopy. If you have larger fibroids they will need to be removed via an abdominal incision.

* Monitoring
If the fibroids are causing no symptoms, a "wait and see" approach is sometimes adopted.

An estimated 30 percent of hysterectomies performed in the U.S. are done to remove fibroid tumors. An alternative to hysterectomy is a procedure known as a myomectomy. This surgery removes the fibroids and leaves the uterus intact. This is an option for women who wish to have children in the future.

Keep in mind that new tumors can still occur after removal. There is an estimated 50% chance that new tumors will form in the future, although they often do not grow as large.

Any woman considering hysterectomy should give the matter careful consideration. In the past many women were not advised to give the matter some thought prior to surgery. ALWAYS get a second opinion.

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