Uterine fibroid incidence and growth in an ultrasound-based, prospective study of young African Americans

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Sep;223(3):402.e1-402.e18. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2020.02.016. Epub 2020 Feb 24.


Background: Uterine fibroids are common. Symptoms are debilitating for many, leading to high medical and societal costs. Indirect data suggest that compared with white women, African Americans develop fibroids at least 10 years earlier on average, and their higher health burden has been well documented.

Objective: The objective of the study was to directly measure fibroid incidence and growth in a large, community-based cohort of young African-American women.

Study design: This observational, community-based, prospective study enrolled 1693 African-American women, aged 23-35 years with no prior diagnosis of fibroids. Standardized transvaginal ultrasound examinations at enrollment and after approximately 18 months were conducted to identify and measure fibroids ≥0.5 cm in diameter. Fibroid growth (change in natural log volume per 18 months) was analyzed with mixed-model regression (n = 344 fibroids from 251 women whose baseline ultrasound revealed already existing fibroids).

Results: Among the 1123 fibroid-free women with follow-up data (88% were followed up), incidence was 9.4% (95% confidence interval, 7.7-11.2) and increased with age (Ptrend < .0001), from 6% (confidence interval, 3-9) for 23-25 year olds to 13% (confidence interval, 9-17) for 32-35 year olds. The chance of any new fibroid development was greater than twice as high for women with existing fibroids compared with women who were fibroid free at baseline (age-adjusted relative risk = 2.3 (confidence interval, 1.7-3.0). The uterine position of most incident fibroids (60%) was intramural corpus. Average fibroid growth was 89% per 18 months (confidence interval, 74-104%) but varied by baseline fibroid size (P < .0001). Fibroids ≥2 cm in diameter had average growth rates well under 100%. In contrast, small fibroids (<1 cm diameter) had an average growth rate of nearly 200% (188%, confidence interval, 145-238%). However, these small fibroids also had a high estimated rate of disappearance (23%).

Conclusion: This is the first study to directly measure age-specific fibroid incidence with a standardized ultrasound protocol and to measure fibroid growth in a large community-based sample. Findings indicate that very small fibroids are very dynamic in their growth, with rapid growth, but a high chance of loss. Larger fibroids grow more slowly. For example, a 2-cm fibroid is likely to take 4-5 years to double its diameter. Detailed data on fibroid incidence confirm an early onset in African-American women.

Keywords: epidemiology; incidence; tumor growth; ultrasound; uterine leiomyomata.