African American Women and Uterine Fibroids: Why More Awareness Is Needed to Overcome this Health Disparity


African American women are nearly three times more likely to develop uterine fibroids and suffer with severe symptoms like heavy menstrual bleeding, anemia, and pelvic pain. From interfering with daily activities to negatively affecting intimate relationships, fibroids have a much more dramatic impact on black women in comparison to women of other races.

Given these realities, many are left questioning why fibroid research has lagged in the past and what’s being done now to overcome this all-too-common health disparity.

“One of the issues with fibroid research is that, because it’s built as a disease process that mostly affects black women, in the sphere of research there just aren’t that many people who will consider it an immediate problem they face every day like heart attack or stroke,” explained Dr. Janice M. Newsome, MD, Interventional Radiologist, Assistant Professor of Radiology at Emory University, and Director of Interventional Services at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, Ga.

And studies show, when it comes to racial diversity, fibroid research has taken a backseat. To examine racial diversity in fibroid clinical studies, Taran and a team of researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., reviewed available literature between 2000 and 2006. The results may surprise you.

Their analysis showed that more than 75 percent of fibroid studies didn’t even report race. Most of the studies that did look at race were based exclusively on African American women–but mainly consisted of prospective studies focusing on risk factors taken from a single larger follow-up study (i.e., the Black Women’s Health Study). Of the remaining studies that addressed race, African American women represented only 15 percent of the populations examined.

Although prospective studies can be useful in following disease development and targeting things that might increase risk–the data has limitations.

“The truth is, we don’t know enough about why fibroids affect African American women,” Dr. Newsome clarified. “For example, is it scientifically sound to link the use of hair relaxers and fibroids in African American women or is it simply a correlation because African American women tend to use hair relaxers? Yes, the science shows that these women are affected disproportionately than all other women. But just because a black woman carries a certain amount of melanin in her skin doesn’t answer why it’s happening.”

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Alicia Armeli