Impacting the Health of Black Women: Fibroids and the Facts
By Froswa Booker-Drew
Uterine fibroids are incredibly common, especially in Black women. I must admit, I was one of those women struggling with this issue in my 30s. I had no idea what to do and because of the amount of pain and other issues I began to experience, I made a decision that was best for me. It is important for Black women to know that options are available.
According to Dr. Suzanne Slonim, an expert in the field of interventional radiology, the problem is multifactorial. “Genetics and race play a role, but their contributions are yet to be fully understood. Cultural differences including diet, exercise habits, environmental exposures, stress levels, and underlying health disparities all contribute as well.
In Black women, fibroids begin developing at much younger ages, they grow faster, are more likely to be in multiples, are more likely symptomatic, and more often result in surgery. Black women are seven times more likely to have surgery for fibroids and more than two times as likely as white women to have a hysterectomy.”
Slonim began her career as an Interventional Radiologist which is minimally invasive image guided surgeries using cutting edge technologies. After working on staff at Stanford University for several years teaching residents and fellows, she moved to Dallas to head up the Interventional Radiology department at Methodist Dallas and Charlton for 16 years.
A physician for 32 years, she conducted her first uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) in 1997, the first year they were performed in the USA. In 2016, she left her practice at Methodist and pursued her passion to focus solely on treating uterine fibroids. On a systemic level, structural racism contributes to disparities in healthcare.
Slonim says, “Black women are more likely to have received suboptimal care through the years, have a poorer state of health, or have a delayed diagnosis of fibroids. Their more complex fibroid situation contributes to higher risks and worse outcomes during fibroid surgery than other ethnic groups.”
Slonim notes that there are a couple of known risk factors that can be addressed directly in regard to helping prevent or treat uterine fibroids, one being Vitamin D deficiencies. Most American women are vitamin D deficient, but especially Black women. She suggests that:
- Black women start taking vitamin D supplements, 2000 units/day. Stress is also a risk factor for fibroids, so obtain and maintain peace in daily life, whether it is from prayer, meditation, connecting with friends, or enjoying a relaxing spa day or hot bath.
- Statistics show that women that are a part of an exercise program tend not to form new fibroids.
- Eating a lot of red meat is a risk factor and fruits and vegetables are protective.
- Being overweight is a risk factor. The bottom line is that fibroids are fed by estrogen, which is made by the ovaries, but estrogen is also made in fat cells. So, if you have a lot of excess fat, you have more estrogen than normal. All that extra estrogen feeds the fibroids and makes them grow. And the last thing she mentions is that hair relaxer contains a chemical that mimics estrogen, so for women who used hair relaxers long term, there is an increased risk of fibroids that correlates with how long it has been used and how many times scalp burns occurred from the chemicals. Black women may start their fibroid journey earlier in life with poorer health due to inequities that exist because of inadequate access to healthcare facilities, lack of quality doctors, and mistrust of the medical system.
Slonim says, “If you look at the COVID-19 vaccine numbers in Texas as of mid July 2021, only 33 percent of Black people have been vaccinated while 44 percent of Whites have. When I talk to my Black friends who haven’t gotten vaccinated, it’s because they remain suspicious of the vaccine. “That suspicion is well justified given American history, but unfortunately, it’s also dangerous when we’re dealing with a potentially deadly disease like COVID or a widespread problem like fibroids.” She states, “Unfortunately, there is no cure for fibroids.
They can be surgically removed, leaving the uterus in place, but if the patient is more than a few years from menopause, the only way to be sure the fibroids won’t come back is to have a hysterectomy. Fortunately, there are many fibroid treatment options.”
Recently, legislative bills in Texas focused on Uterine fibroids–HB1966 and HB1967 were passed due to the behind the-scenes efforts of Dr. Slonim. In partnership with State Rep. Senfronia Thompson [D], and others, these bills will make every July Uterine Fibroids Awareness Month and provide a database of information about women with uterine fibroids and to uterine fibroid education and research.
Dallas County Commissioners Court passed a resolution to promote fibroid awareness as well. Slonim’s hope is that bringing awareness and education to the topic of uterine fibroids will remove the taboo about discussing it and help women make informed decisions about their healthcare. “Uterine fibroids have a significant impact on the quality of life for women. The need to educate people may appear daunting, but it is not insurmountable. I have seen the impact that my small practice is making, and I know that every year more women’s lives can improve exponentially.”
To learn more about fibroids, visit www.fibroidfree.com for more information. HERitage Giving Circle will also host a forum on the topic. To attend this virtual event on August 17 at 7 pm, visit https://www. heritagegivingfund.org / for more information.
Froswa’ Booker-Drew, PhD, is the Founder and CEO of Soulstice Consultancy, specializing as a partnership broker and leadership expert for companies and organizations to thrive with measurable and meaningful impact. She also is the VP of Community Affairs and Strategic Alliances for the State Fair of Texas.