Uterine fibroids, aka tumors that grow in the uterus, are often considered “benign” by members of the medical community because they’re not cancerous. But for the estimated 26 million Americans who experience fibroids, the impact on their lives is enormous. Fibroids can cause extreme pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, and even infertility. (Far from benign, wouldn’t you say?) As of 2020, there is no cure—but that might change in the near future.
On Thursday, Senator Kamala Harris introduced a bill to the Senate that aims to fund research and education on uterine fibroids, reports Refinery29. A companion bill has also been brought to the house by New York representative Yvette Clark. This new legislation comes at the tail end of Fibroids Awareness Month, an initiative designed to bring awareness to the condition that affects millions of people with uteruses and yet remains understudied and under-resourced.
While any person with a uterus can develop fibroids, Black women are at a significantly increased risk. In fact, nine out of 10 Black women will develop fibroids before they’re 50 years old, and their symptoms are often more severe than those of their non-Black peers. Additionally, complications from fibroids can lead to miscarriage, infertility, and maternal death. As Sen. Harris points out to Refinery29, Black women in the U.S. are dying from childbirth-related causes at disproportionate rates thanks to systemic racism that contributes to untreated underlying conditions and neglect from the medical system.
Lack of education around the condition often leads to misdiagnoses, Rep. Clark tells Refinery29. “This disease has ravaged the lives of women across the country, and increasing funding for research and public education related to fibroids is critical to reversing that trend,” she says. “If we are serious about fixing inequities in our health-care system, then we must treat uterine fibroids with the funding and attention it deserves.”
The proposed uterine fibroids bill would do just that, to the tune of a $30 million grant to the National Institute for Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) over four years to expand fibroid research, create a public health campaign, and collect data on affected populations.
As Well+Good writer Kara Jillian Brown reported in a recent piece, medical professionals do not currently understand why fibroids occur or why they’re so common in Black women. Although other treatments do exist, hysterectomies—aka the removal of the entire uterus—remain the only treatment that permanently ends the return of fibroids. Other forms of surgery that removes the fibroids while leaving the uterus intact are often underperformed due to its reputation among medical care providers as being difficult, reports Brown, especially when the patient is Black. And because people assume that hysterectomies are the only treatment for fibroids, many avoid doctor care altogether and instead suffer in silence.
This proposed legislation is a significant step toward giving women new and better options while educating their providers to enable more robust care. It’s also a positive reminder of what the government can do for its citizens when they are more diversely represented. (When was the last time you heard a man say the words, “uterine fibroids,” after all?) As Rep. Clarke told R29, “This bill is an important first step towards making women’s healthcare a priority.”
The bills have an uphill battle to get passed by the conservative, male-dominated Senate and to be signed into law. If this is an issue you’re passionate about, be sure to call and email your representatives and senators to encourage them to support the bill. It’s time that this health issue gets the research and attention it deserves.