Fibroids: Greater in African-American Women than White. Why?

Fibroids – non-cancerous growths in the uterus – are the most common pelvic tumor in women. Fibroids are also a major reason that women decide to undergo hysterectomies or myomectomies.

“Studies show that African-American women suffer fibroids 2 to 3 times more than white women,” says McLeod OB/GYN Dr. Monica Ploetzke. “We also know that Black women tend to experience fibroids at a younger age and often more severely than their white counterparts.”
One estimate is that 25% of African-American women will suffer from fibroids by the age of 25 and 80% will have them by age 50 (compared with 70% for white females).
Because Black women suffer fibroids at an earlier age, they also are 2 to 3 times more likely to undergo surgery.

Researchers have found a number of elements that are linked to this disparity, though no cause had been identified. Here’s what we know:

  • There may be some genetic element that increases this tendency among African-American women.
  • Another study suggested that greater overall lifetime stress might help trigger fibroids.
  • Some evidence suggests environmental factors, such as diet or a history of abuse, increase the risk.
  • Another study pointed to a Vitamin D deficiency due to darker skin.
  • One of the most unusual – and possibly controversial – connections seems to be with hair relaxer.
    • To do the job, hair relaxers contain hormonally-active compounds and harsh chemicals, some which even cause burns on the skin.
    • A study of more than 23,000 African-American women found increased risk of fibroids among those who had the longest and most frequent use – and most burns – from hair relaxer.
    • Women living in the South with higher educational attainment, higher income and white-collar jobs registered the most frequent use of hair relaxer and, therefore, the greatest risk of early and more severe fibroids.

Although there is no confirmed cause of this disparity, it would be good to control the elements highlighted above if you can.
The important message to carry away from this article is that if you experience the symptoms of fibroids – abnormal uterine bleeding and pelvic pain – see your gynecologist as soon as possible. You’ll see a better quality of life. If diagnosed soon enough, you can avoid a total hysterectomy.

Find a Gynecologist near you.

Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Society of Reproductive Medicine, American Journal of Epidemiology, American Journal of Obstetrics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science