A diagnosis of uterine fibroids might sound scary. Because fibroids are muscular tumors, you may wonder if your chances of cancer are increased. It can be hard to understand the differences between uterine fibroids and cancer, especially when considering that these two conditions share some overlapping symptoms.
Ahead of World Cancer Day on 4 February, we’re breaking down how these two conditions are different, how their symptoms vary, and whether or not there is a relationship between a diagnosis of uterine cancer and fibroids.
Uterine fibroids and uterine cancer: Is my risk higher?
No. Fibroids are not cancerous and your risk for cancer isn’t higher because you have them.
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors, meaning that they are non-cancerous by definition. While these growths can cause mild or intense physical discomfort, they cannot cause cancer or increase your chances of developing cancer.
Uterine cancer occurs when cancer cells grow and expand in the uterus and surrounding tissue. It’s important to note that uterine cancer is not more common among women who have fibroids. According to research, women with uterine cancer are not more or less likely to have uterine fibroids than their counterparts in the general population.
The frequency of fibroids is very different from that of uterine cancer. According to Johns Hopkins University, somewhere between 20 to 70 percent of women will develop fibroids at some point during their reproductive years.
While it is the most common gynecologic cancer, uterine cancer is fairly rare. The CDC reports that approximately 27 out of every 100,000 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer each year, which is a rate of approximately 0.03%. This means your chances of developing fibroids is far higher than being diagnosed with uterine cancer.
Differences in treating uterine fibroids and uterine cancer
The way these two diseases are medically treated is drastically different. With uterine fibroids, treatment options vary depending upon the size of the fibroid and its impact on a woman’s quality of life.
Some fibroids require no medical treatment at all, whereas others will require surgery for removal. Most of the time, the standard treatment path for fibroids begins with non-invasive options, including medications aimed at shrinking the fibroids. There are a number of other procedures that doctors may recommend, such as fibroid embolization.
The approach to treating uterine cancer is dramatically different. Almost always, a hysterectomy is recommended for women diagnosed with uterine cancer, even if the disease is still in its early stages. Some women will need to undergo radiation therapy or chemotherapy following the surgery, depending on the cancer’s progression.
Symptoms of uterine cancer vs. uterine fibroids
There are a number of shared symptoms between uterine cancer and fibroids, such as frequent urination and abdominal pain and discomfort. Women diagnosed with uterine cancer and fibroids may both experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, which occurs outside of a normal menstrual period.
But there are other distinct symptoms for uterine cancer which aren’t experienced by women who have fibroids. Uterine cancer sees women suffer from masses in the vagina, while uterine fibroids consist of growths which are often felt higher up in the abdominal region.
More common signs of uterine cancer include post-menopausal bleeding and acute onset pain, which begins suddenly. Both of these symptoms are reported less frequently among women who have uterine fibroids.
Many women living with fibroids experience severe bloating, known colloquially as “fibroid belly.” This can make their abdominal regions appear misshapen, or lead to them needing to wear larger pants, despite not gaining a significant amount of weight. This intense bloating is not typically characteristic of uterine cancer.
How do I know if it’s fibroids or uterine cancer?
If you’re experiencing unusual bleeding, pain during sex, or abdominal pain, it’s important that you make an appointment with your gynecologist as soon as possible. Medical imaging, including the use of an MRI and/or ultrasound, will help healthcare professionals determine if you have fibroids or uterine cancer. A pelvic exam and biopsy of any growths will also assist your doctor in diagnosing your condition.
Although uterine fibroids and uterine cancer are both medical conditions that affect the female reproductive system, their causes, impact on your life, and treatment paths are different. Talk to your doctor today if you suspect that you have either of these conditions. Be sure to regularly schedule check-ups with your gynecologist and undergo pap testing according to the frequency that your doctor recommends.
Here at Talking Fibroids, our goal is to educate people about Uterine Fibroids and their symptoms. Find out more about us here or Get in contact with us today!