Non-cancerous tumours of the uterus
Uterine fibroids are a common non-cancerous tumour of the uterus. They are growths that develop in the connecting tissues of the uterus. They do not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and are not usually life-threatening.
Uterine fibroids may grow in different parts of the uterus, but they most often develop in the uterine wall. They tend to get bigger during the reproductive years and shrink after menopause. Uterine fibroids may increase the risk of infertility.
About half of all women have uterine fibroids by the age of 50. They are rare under the age of 20. The cause of uterine fibroids is unknown. Doctors think they are caused by hormones because high levels of estrogen and progesterone seem to increase their growth. They also think that they may run in families.
Many women with fibroids don’t have any symptoms. Whether or not you have symptoms and which symptoms you have will depend on the number of fibroids, their size and their location in the uterus. If symptoms develop, they can include:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding
- urinating more often
- pain, pressure or cramps in the lower abdomen
- problems during pregnancy, including premature contractions and spontaneous abortion
If you have symptoms or your doctor thinks you might have uterine fibroids, you will be sent for tests. Tests used to diagnose or rule out uterine fibroids include:
- pelvic exam
- transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound
- biopsy of the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium)
Find out more about these tests and procedures.
Uterine fibroids usually don’t need to be treated unless they cause symptoms. Treatment options include:
- medicines to lower estrogen levels and decrease fibroid growth
- pain medicines
- surgery to remove the fibroids but not the uterus (called myomectomy)
- surgery to remove the uterus (called hysterectomy)
Expert review and references
American Cancer Society. Uterine Sarcoma. 2014: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003145-pdf.pdf.
Mutch DG, Biest SW . Uterine fibroids. Beers, M. H., & Berkow, R., (Eds.). Merck Manual Professional Edition. 2013: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/uterine-fibroids/uterine-fibroids.
US National Library of Medicine. Uterine fibroids. 2013: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000914.htm.