Whenever we hear the word “growth” when referring to something within our bodies, we initially panic, and rightfully so. In our minds, the jump from growth to cancer is both short and terrifying. However, it is important to understand that fibroids are always benign.
Still, we often hear people citing information that contradicts this truth. Where is that information coming from?
While fibroids — also called leiomyomas — are never cancerous, there is a rare condition called leiomyosarcoma, whereby a fibroid can harbor a cancer that is not a part of the fibroid, itself.
Leiomyosarcoma, or LMS, is a type of rare cancer that grows in the smooth muscles including the intestines, stomach, bladder, blood vessels and in women, the uterus.
The chances of this occurring are estimated by the American FDA to be somewhere between 1 in 400 and 1 in 2000. By all estimations, the percentages are thankfully very low. In fact, LMS of the uterus affects only about 6 per 1 million people per year in the United States. However, to decrease the likelihood and danger even further, women with fibroids should stay on top of their situations, making sure to be monitored regularly by a qualified and trusted medical professional. Keeping iron levels at a healthy level further lowers the chances of leiomyosarcoma, so that’s one more reason to visit the doctor.
Who is at risk for LMS?
- Genetic factors, including African heritage and any family history of retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eyes, apparently increases the chances of developing leiomyosarcoma.
- Tamoxifen, a drug used long-term to treat breast cancer, may increase risk.
- Radiation in the pelvic area seems to also be a risk factor, though any effects only seem to appear 5-25 years following the radiation.
- Age – Most leiomyosarcomas are diagnosed in women over 60 years old and diagnosis in women under 20 are incredibly rare.
Diagnosis may require a few steps. Your doctor will likely begin with a regular clinical evaluation, seeing the shape of the body from the outside and feeling for any growths. An internal pelvic exam will likely be the next step. Once a suspicion arises for something abnormal, a few different methods may be used for further, accurate diagnosis.
Imaging technologies such as x-ray, MRI, CT, ultrasound, angiography, hysteroscopy and PET imaging may be used to have a look at the tumor and estimate its size, as well as to see if it has spread to other areas of the body.
Diagnosis is then confirmed through biopsy with results delivered in a pathology report.
A trained and experienced oncologist will be brought into the picture in cases of LMS and will advise as to the best course of treatment. In general, treatment may include any combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, depending on the extent and stage of the cancer.
Fibroids are not cancerous, ever.
Got it? Good. They aren’t fun and their symptoms can be a lot to handle, but they aren’t cancer and won’t turn into anything malignant. HOWEVER, the tiny off-chance that does exist, in that cancer could be hanging out in their midst, marks up yet one more reason that women should be under the supervision of a competent medical professional as per the prescribed recommendations. If you haven’t yet chosen a gynecologist, we can help with that, too.