Why Black Women Are More Likely to Have Uterine FibroidsFeb 25, 2021 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Many Black celebrities have spoken about their battle with uterine fibroids. Beverly Johnson, the first African American model to be featured on the cover of Vogue Magazine, musician FKA Twigs, and former model and Real Housewives of Atlanta star, Cynthia Bailey, have all spoken about their journey with uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids, also called uterine leiomyomas or myomas, are benign tumors that grow in or on the uterus. In less severe cases, they are normally harmless. However, they vary in size, amount, and location, and it’s these factors that cause different effects on women. It’s unclear why fibroids develop, but several factors may influence their formation, including unbalanced hormones, pregnancy, and a family history of uterine fibroids. Symptoms of uterine fibroids may include:
heavy bleeding between or during your periods that includes blood clots
pain in the pelvis or lower back
increased menstrual cramping
pain during intercourse
menstruation that lasts longer than usual
pressure or fullness in your lower abdomen
swelling or enlargement of the abdomen
Although any woman of reproductive age can develop fibroids, Black and African women are more likely to have fibroids than any other race. Relative to White women, Black women are 2-3 times more likely to have uterine fibroids at younger ages, and to have different or additional symptoms of uterine fibroids. A report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that Black women are three times more likely to develop fibroids than White women, and are more likely to have larger fibroids.
The rate of hospitalization for fibroids is three times higher for Black women than White women. Unfortunately, it is not yet understood why there is an increased risk of uterine fibroids for Black women. Dr. Aren Gottlieb, an OB/GYN based in New York City, said in an interview that fibroids are believed to be estrogen-responsive, and because obese patients make a lot of exogenous estrogen, they tend to have more fibroids. “Black women in the United States are disproportionately affected by obesity. This could be one reason why they are more at risk for developing uterine fibroids,” explained Gottlieb.
“Some researchers theorize that a lifelong exposure to racism, combined with limited access to medical resources, and a lower overall quality of care, might help explain this disparity in fibroid diagnosis,” says Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and a dean at Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
There is currently a range of options for uterine fibroid treatment, including surgery called a hysterectomy or myomectomy. There are also hormonal treatments such as Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), and non-surgical methods, like Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). Sadly, many Black women end up having surgery because they do not have access to the less invasive outpatient treatment procedures. Although hysterectomy is an effective cure for uterine fibroids, it is not recommended for women of reproductive age that plan to conceive a child in the future.
Because Black women are more likely to develop fibroids at a younger age, there needs to be an increased awareness of uterine fibroids. In 2020, Ghanaian entrepreneur Nana Konamah, and friend Jessica Nabongo, made a documentary to help women understand how fibroids can impact many aspects of women’s lives, and to eliminate period stigma, so women speak up about symptoms and get diagnosed. Black women, and all women, need to know that suffering from fibroids is not normal.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.