Sister Study Aims to Identify Cause of Uterine Fibroids

A national team of medical researchers, including doctors from the Fibroid Center at South Miami Hospital and Baptist Health South Florida, is seeking women with uterine fibroids and those who have a family history of fibroids to take part in a study aimed at identifying the genetic cause of and best treatments for this most common non-cancerous growth in women.

To participate in the “sister” portion of the study, subjects must be sisters from the same genetic family, and one of them needs to have had uterine fibroids. Pairs of sisters with blood relatives anywhere in their family who have fibroids may also be eligible to participate.

Up to 75 percent of women in the U.S. will develop fibroids at some point in their life, typically during childbearing ages, according to the National Institutes of Health. Uterine fibroids can cause significant pain, bleeding and fertility problems.

Despite their widespread existence, no one knows what causes fibroids, says gynecologist Rafael Perez, M.D., medical director of the Fibroid Center at South Miami Hospital’s Center for Women & Infants who is involved in the trials. Research has shown several possibilities, but a specific genetic marker has not yet been identified, he adds.

Led by the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), other national institutions participating in the five-year study include Duke University and Massachusetts General Hospital. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) are funding the $20 million project.

Fibroids can grow as a single tumor, or there can be many. They can be as small as an apple seed, or as big as a grapefruit.  While not all women with fibroids have symptoms, for some the symptoms can be severe.

African-American women are three times more likely to get fibroids than Caucasian women, a survey published in the Journal of Women’s Health found. Fibroids in this population seem to occur at a younger age, grow more quickly and are more likely to cause severe symptoms that interfere with daily life.

“Identifying the gene that causes fibroids will give doctors the ability to intervene earlier and prevent the growths from affecting a woman’s quality of life,” Dr. Perez said. “If DNA tells us a woman is predisposed to getting fibroids, we can follow her closely, offer more treatment options and work proactively to preserve fertility.”

“Through our research, we hope to advance the treatments of fibroids similar to how discovery of the BRCA gene has helped women with breast cancer,” he adds.

Sisters interested in being considered a research participant can call 786-662-8602 or email to learn more.

Other articles about uterine fibroids published on this blog include:

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