According to statistics reported on the Fibroid Network, up to 80% of Black women in the UK will develop fibroids at some point in their lives.
Fibroids are tumours that grow from the muscles in and around the womb. They are usually non-cancerous, and many women are unaware of their presence. However, in one in three cases, women will typically experience symptoms of excessive, and sometimes prolonged, menstrual bleeding, along with the other symptoms that are commonly associated with the monthly cycle.
The excessive bleeding is perhaps the commonest symptom and the one that creates the most immediate distress for a woman, since the need to visit the bathroom – sometimes as often as every fifteen minutes – can bring her normal routine to a grinding halt. The excessive bleeding can also lead to other problems, such as severe anaemia.
Fibroids can impair a woman’s fertility, preventing her from being able to become pregnant. Women with fibroids can, however, still become pregnant but, in many of those cases, the fibroids often grow along with the baby and compete for space in the womb.
No one knows for sure the exact cause(s) of fibroids, but there are some suggestions that fibroid growth is encouraged in the presence of high levels of the female hormone, oestrogen. This is perhaps why fibroids commonly appear in women aged 30 to 50 years of age, and sometimes shrink in older women as they approach the menopause, when oestrogen levels begin to decrease. It is also not known why fibroids are more common among African-Caribbean women than among some other groups. Many African-Caribbean women believe that a big contributing factor is the consumption of poultry that contains growth hormones. The issue cannot be narrowed down to just that factor, however, as there are many reported cases of women eliminating poultry from their diets after undergoing a myomectomy (surgical removal of fibroids) only to have the tumours return.
Sometimes, medication can be given to reduce the symptoms and discomfort of fibroids. Sometimes these medications can help to shrink the fibroids. At other times, surgery is needed to remove them. The operation is known as a myomectomy and is quite invasive. Myomectomy, however, means that the woman keeps her womb, and many women have subsequently gone on to conceive successfully. At other times, when fibroids are particularly severe, and especially if a woman already has children or does not wish to actually have children, a hysterectomy – the complete removal of the womb – is carried out. Women need to be aware that having a hysterectomy will plunge them straight into the menopause, and the decision to have one should therefore never be taken lightly. Doctors ought to only offer hysterectomy if and when all other treatment options have been explored and ruled out. Unfortunately some, including GPs in the UK, tend to offer women a hysterectomy as the first treatment choice for fibroids.
The Fibroid Forum, a group set up in the UK to speak to the issue of fibroids as they affect African-Caribbean women, advises: “We would remind women that they can seek a direct referral from their GPs to those hospitals that are considered centres of excellence for treating fibroids, or to consultant gynaecologists that specialise in the treatment of fibroids.
“Ask for information on the different treatment options available for fibroids, and find out why your consultant is recommending a particular option for you.
“Speak to other women who have had fibroids and received treatment for theirs. Not all women with fibroids will need surgery or treatment with radiology. Some research has been done on the possible causes of fibroids and its prevention, and we would encourage individuals to look at various sources themselves, as there are different ideas around this.”
General Practice Nurse, Carol Webley-Brown, one of the presenters at a conference organised by the Fibroid Forum last year, said: “Women should no longer suffer from fibroids, but learn how to live their lives with the condition by finding out more about their own bodies and what can help them as individuals. For example, if it means losing weight or eating less red meat and that works for you, then do it. Promote your health because, by doing that, you promote God’s love.”
The Fibroid Forum held their first conference on fibroid awareness in October 2016 at the House of Bread Church, New Cross, in London. A second conference is slated to take place in autumn 2017 in the West Midlands.
The Fibroid Forum can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 07951 549192.