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Can uterine fibroids turn into cancer?

Uterine fibroids do not turn into cancer—they are entirely benign tumours arising from smooth muscle tissues within the uterus.

Fibroids are the most common pelvic tumours in women and they are non-cancerous. We don’t know exactly what causes uterine fibroids, and you can have a single fibroid or multiple ones.

We do know that women’s chances of developing cancer are not related to uterine fibroids, and having uterine fibroids doesn't increase the chances of getting other gynaecological cancers.

Should I worry about uterine fibroids?

Most women with fibroids do not have any symptoms and only a small percentage of uterine fibroids will require treatment.

Some women with fibroids may have the following symptoms: heavy, painful or erratic periods, pelvic pressure, enlargement of the lower abdomen, frequent urination, pain during intercourse and infertility. For some these symptoms may be mild, while for others these can be severely debilitating.

What is not known and uncertain?

While fibroids are very common, no single test will differentiate them from malignant uterine tumours, such as aggressive uterine sarcomas.

Uterine sarcomas also arise from the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus; sarcomas, leiomyosarcoma and carcinosarcomas are rare but highly aggressive cancers.

How do I know a uterine fibroid is not a sarcoma?

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between uterine fibroids (benign tumours) and sarcomas (malignant tumours).

Symptoms are unspecific and can be confused with uterine fibroids. Diagnosis by medical imaging (for e.g. CT, MRI), blood tests, and pelvic exams are unreliable, and therefore requires a biopsy. As a rule, all patients with abnormal uterine bleeding need to have some tissue taken from the uterus to be examined under a microscope. A definitive diagnosis requires tissue which can be obtained through a Pipelle, myomectomy (to remove the fibroids and preserve the uterus) or a hysterectomy (removal of uterus).

cancer researcher with microscopeSarcomas are more common in women over the age of 55 years and any sudden growth in those groups of women needs to be explored carefully.

Unfortunately, a significant percentage of uterine sarcomas are nevertheless diagnosed incidentally following a hysterectomy or a myomectomy due to lack of any reliable screening options.

How are uterine fibroids treated?

Treatment for fibroids depends on the size and location of the fibroids, symptoms, and other factors. In general when there are no symptoms or the fibroids are small, no treatment is needed. More information on treatment of uterine fibroids here.

When to see a doctor?

Visit a doctor if you have pelvic pain that does not go away, any abnormal bleeding, or heavy, painful and prolonged periods. Speaking to a gynaecological oncologist will help you to be informed.

If you wish to receive regular information, resources, reassurance and inspiration for up-to-date care that is safe and sound and in line with the latest research, please subscribe to my blog via the form above, or like Dr Andreas Obermair on Facebook.

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