It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and women are reminded about the importance of knowing the risk factors and typical signs of breast cancer. If you suffer from fibroids, you may wonder if there is a relationship between these non-cancerous tumors and breast cancer.
A recent study published in the Journal of Gynecological Oncology determined that the risk of breast cancer was higher among women with fibroids. The researchers used the National Health Insurance Research Database of Taiwan and compared 22,001 women with newly diagnosed fibroids to 85,356 women without fibroids.
The study found that women with a history of fibroids had a 35 percent higher rate of developing breast cancer than women without uterine fibroids.1. However, researchers also concluded that while women with fibroids were at a higher risk of breast cancer, they also were significantly less likely to die from the disease.
Although uterine fibroids and breast cancer are different diseases, they have a few similar factors which make it important to understand and recognize symptoms of both conditions.
- Fibroids. Uterine fibroids, medically known as leiomyomas, are the most common benign (non-cancerous) tumors of the female reproductive system. Fibroids typically develop in women of reproductive age. These tumors grow both within and outside the wall of the uterus.
- Breast Cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define breast cancer as a disease in which cells multiply out of control in the body.
Understanding Risk Factors for Fibroids
Although the exact reasons for the cause of fibroid growth are still unknown, an excess of estrogen seems to influence their development.
- Fibroids are sensitive to estrogen. Girls who begin menstruating before 11 are more likely to develop fibroids than those who start menstruating after 13.
- Genetics also plays a role. Women with a family history of fibroids are more likely to develop fibroids.
- Women of African American backgrounds are more likely to develop fibroids.
Breast Cancer Risks
Studies have also shown that a woman’s risk of breast cancer is related to how much estrogen and progesterone her body produces.
- Over time, exposure to high levels of estrogen has been linked to an increased risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer.
- Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age.
- Family history of breast cancer.
- Reproductive history. Menstrual periods that start before age 12 and menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer.
Factors Contributing to High Estrogen Levels in the Body
Both uterine fibroids and estrogen-positive breast cancer can be influenced by genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Over-consumption of alcohol reduces the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen.
- Increased body mass index (BMI) or obesity after menopause: Increased body fat can lead to high estrogen levels because fat tissue produces estrogen.
- Medications: Hormone medications boost estrogen levels.
- Genetics: Family history plays a role in an increase in estrogen levels
- Environmental factors: Chemicals such as synthetic xenoestrogens are found in the environment and act like estrogen thus increasing estrogen levels.
- Lack of physical activity: Research shows that increased physical activity promotes a decrease in circulating estrogen in the body.
Recognizing Fibroid and Breast Cancer Symptoms
Fibroid symptoms, according to USA Fibroid Centers, depend on the size and location of the fibroids within the uterus and how close they are to various organs. The most common signs of fibroids are:
- Heavy, prolonged bleeding
- Pressure on the bladder causing urinary urgency
- Pelvic pain – either constant, dull aches or shooting pains
- Painful sex
- Abdominal bloating
- Not able to conceive, or miscarriage
- Anemia, causing fatigue
Breast cancer produces different symptoms in different people. The most common signs are:
- An unknown mass in the breast or armpit.
- Pain in the area around the nipple.
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Changes to skin color or texture such as redness or irritated skin.
Proactive Ways to Manage Your Health
Both uterine fibroids and breast cancer symptoms should never be ignored. Don’t wait for changes to worsen, get ahead of them before they progress.
You should discuss your condition with your doctor if you suffer from fibroid symptoms. Fibroid specialists use image-guided technology ultrasounds and MRIs to locate fibroid tumors and can provide you with an accurate diagnosis of your condition.
The next step is to plan how you want to manage your fibroids and explore treatment options, especially if your fibroid symptoms worsen. Fibroid treatments range from surgical removal of the uterus to minimally invasive procedures such as uterine fibroid embolization, which shrinks fibroids and eliminates painful symptoms.
Like uterine fibroids, guided imagery such as mammograms and MRIs are extremely useful in diagnosing breast cancer. Breast self-exams and regular doctor visits also contribute to early detection and are an important part of managing your health.
Fibroid Fighters’ goal is to increase awareness about fibroids and educate women about their treatment options. If you want the latest information about fibroids, subscribe to our newsletter here.
If you’re experiencing symptoms and need assistance managing fibroid disease, contact us at [email protected] or call 855.455-5262.