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Benign Uterine Fibroid Tumors

What Every Woman Needs To Know About Benign Uterine Fibroid Tumors

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Updated April 17, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Doctor examining woman with abdominal ultrasound Thomas Tolstrup/Iconica/Getty Images

What Are Uterine Fibroid Tumors

Uterine fibroid tumors are almost always benign. These benign (non-cancerous) tumors are found in most cases, in the uterus of women in their 30's and 40's.

Fibroid tumors are solid tumors which are made of fibrous tissue, hence the name 'fibroid' tumor. Most often fibroids occur as multiple tumor masses which are slow-growing and often cause no symptoms.

The size of fibroids varies immensely among women and some are so small that a microscope is required to see them. However some women experience a single large fibroid tumor the size of a grapefruit or a fibroid which is so large it encompasses the entire abdominal area. Such large tumors can weigh as much as 50 pounds; the largest, reported, fibroid ever recorded weighed in at 140 pounds.

No one is sure why fibroid tumors develop, but some facts seem clear:

  • fibroid tumors do not develop before the body begins producing estrogen during the onset of menstruation
  • fibroid tumors will continue to grow while estrogen is present
  • they will grow very quickly during pregnancy when the body is producing extra estrogen
  • the tumors often shrink and disappear after menopause when the body stops producing estrogen
  • a woman will almost never develop fibroid tumors after menopause.

The estrogen connection appears to be quite clear, although there are still some who doubt the role estrogen plays in the development of fibroid tumors because women with fibroids often have blood levels which reveal normal amounts of estrogen.

Types of Fibroid Tumors

Submucous Fibroids

These fibroids occur just below the lining of the uterus and can cause menstrual problems, including pain as they grow and move around the pelvic area.

Intramural Fibroids

A round fibroid most often within the uterine wall which can cause enlargement of the uterus as they grow.

Subserous Fibroids

This fibroid grows on the outer wall of the uterus and usually causes no symptoms until it grows large enough to interfere with other organs.

Pedunculated Fibroids

These fibroids develop when a subserous fibroid grows a peduncle (stalk), as they grow larger they may become twisted and cause severe pain.

Interligamentous Fibroid

A fibroid which grows sideways between the ligaments which support the uterus in the abdominal region. This type of fibroid is especially difficult to remove without the possibility of interfering with the blood supply or other organs.

Parasitic Fibroid

The rarest form of fibroid tumor occurs when a fibroid attaches itself to another organ.

Diagnosis of Fibroid Tumors

Diagnosis of fibroids is generally made by your physician during your annual gynecological exam when your physician feels a mass, they often are found when your physician is looking for something else or may never be discovered if you do not experience symptoms. However larger fibroids may make examination of your ovaries impossible if they grow near your ovaries.

An ultrasound scan is often ordered when such masses are felt by your physician to determine the cause of the mass, however some fibroids appear on sonograms as ovarian tumors and surgery is the only way an accurate diagnosis can be made.

Although most fibroids cause no symptoms, the estimated 25 percent of women who do have symptoms may have abnormal bleeding, pain during menstruation, and as the fibroid tumors grow larger, women will often experience a swollen abdomen.

Larger fibroids may cause frequent urination or an inability to control your bladder, either the ability to control the urge or in severe cases, a women may find that she is unable to urinate at all. If a fibroid extends towards a woman's back it may push on the bowels, causing constipation and a backache.

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