That’s no baby bump!

uterine fibroid tumor

We’ve all seen them – the covers of magazines speculating on the latest celebrity pregnancy. A circle around a woman’s abdomen focuses on what must be a “baby bump.” But every time I see them, I wonder the same thing – does she have a fibroid tumor?

A fibroid tumor is a growth in a woman’s uterus, usually non-cancerous. As the not-so-proud possessor of one of these fibroids, I can tell you that more than once I have changed my outfit because my tummy has the appearance of someone in her early pregnancy.

This condition is not as rare as you think. According to Frank Fara, MD, at Banner Health Center in Surprise, Ariz., about 50 percent or more women will have a fibroid tumor by the age of 50. Some may not even be noticeable, as they can range in size from as small as a breath mint, to as large as a softball.

Hearing that half of women might get a tumor by the age of 50 might be cause for many to get nervous, but David Wood, MD, a physician at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, notes in another Ask the Expert column that these tumors are mostly harmless and have no symptoms or real impact on a woman’s day-to-day life.

“In most instances it is best for these tumors to be left alone,” Dr. Wood writes. “Simply monitoring fibroids through regular gynecological exams is the best course of treatment when no noticeable symptoms are present.”

But in some women whose fibroids grow larger, like my own, some problems other than struggling to button your jeans can occur. These can include:

  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Fullness or pain in the lower belly or pelvis
  • Urinary frequency
  • Constipation

If you have any of these  symptoms, your doctor will monitor you to make sure no serious health issues arise, such as anemia from the heavy bleeding. I have an annual ultrasound to ensure my tumor has not grown.

In the rare case the fibroid tumor becomes a health concern, your physician will discuss options for removal, which include hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), myomectomy (removal of just the fibroids in the uterus), cryosurgery (freezing and destroying the fibroids), uterine artery embolization (injecting particles that reduce blood flow to the fibroids) and other techniques.

But for the most part, about half of American women are carrying a fibroid on their uterus, without any problems. So the next time you speculate over a bump on someone’s tummy, remember that it might not be that the woman has a bun in the oven or ate too much pizza the night before!

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