Credit: Photo courtesy of National Women's Network

More hysterectomies are performed each year because of the growth of fibroids. The uterus has been defined as an organ in mammals that holds, protects and usually nourishes the young until birth. Well, I beg to differ with this definition. The uterus is a dynamic organ that communicates with other organs and specialized tissues in the body. With that in mind, it is downright disturbing that 350,000 of these precious organs are removed from women each year in the U.S. alone.

The first hysterectomy was performed in Rome by the Greek physician Archigenes in the year A.D. 100, for what reason, I am not sure. The U.S. holds the world record for hysterectomies. At least 40 percent of all these operations are performed because of the growth of large muscular tumors known as fibroids. The enlargement of these non-malignant tumors might cause abdominal discomfort, heavy bleeding, pelvic pressure and pain. During menopause, fibroids might be decreased in size because of the decrease in estrogen that is produced by the ovary.

The other 60 percent of hysterectomies are for heavy menstrual bleeding, unexplained pelvic pain and discomfort in the pelvic area.

The uterus is an organ that produces many chemicals and hormones. It is constantly communicating with other glandular organs, including the brain. The cells that line the uterus produce proteins, fats and carbohydrates, always preparing for a fertilized egg. It has recently been demonstrated that the uterus also produces a hormone that ensures the healthiness of blood vessels that are distributed in the uterus. The hormones as a group are known as prostaglandins. They not only dilate arteries but also control the contraction of the uterus, even during intercourse. This hormone affects smooth muscles located in organs throughout the body. This magnificent organ also produces a morphine-like compound that controls pain during contractions. It also produces a marijuana-like compound that is necessary to make the lining of the uterus ready for the fertilized egg to be attached.

African-American women have been found to have a high incidence of fibroids for unknown reasons. It might be genetic, environmental or nutritional. At the present time, there is no medically known reason. It is interesting, however, that African-Americans have a high incidence of keloids that might for some reason be related to fibroids.

Often, during a routine vaginal exam, the gynecologist might palpate small or even large fibroids. Even the suggestion of this condition sets off an alarm in the minds of patients. Most of the time, women might consider these tumors to be cancerous and want them removed immediately, even against the advice of the physician. Rest assured, if your physician advises against surgery, you are in good hands. If surgery is necessary, however, a hysterectomy is not the only answer. The small fibroids can be decreased in size by laser surgery, which decreases the amount of healing time and return to normal activities.

There are now two new procedures that are being used to decrease the size of fibroids and spare the uterus. It has been recently shown that if one can block the blood supply to the uterus, known as uterine artery embolization, this procedure dramatically decreases the size of fibroids. A noninvasive treatment of uterine fibroids involves a technique that uses ultrasound with magnetic imaging. This procedure has been developed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minn. It offers a new method of preserving the uterus.

Remember to have pelvic examinations and pap smears on a regular basis to detect early, curable gynecological conditions. Please choose a caring physician. Don’t be annoyed with fibroids!