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Doctor's Appointment: Uterine fibroids to receive nat'l prominence

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Drs Sara Lawrence and Horace Fletcher

Known as the black woman's disease, approximately 80 per cent of Jamaican women have uterine fibroids.

For many, the symptoms can be accompanied by distressing signs that significantly affect productivity, forcing some women to seek surgical and other options for relief, but greater awareness can help women to better deal with the symptoms and become aware of treatment options. Doctor's Appointment's most recent episode tackled the medical and emotional aspects of the disease.

"Fibroids are very common. I would say about 80 per cent of women will have fibroids, but only about half of those women will have any significant symptoms from fibroids," said Dr Horace Fletcher, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and consultant obstetrician gynaecologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies, while on the TV show.

"So, not every woman who has a fibroid will need to be treated," Dr Fletcher emphasised, defining fibroids as "an abnormal growth of the muscle of the uterus or the womb, and it usually occurs in women who tend not to have children because it grows under the influence of one of the hormones in the body - estrogen - and if you're not pregnant you tend to have less estrogen."

The non-cancerous growths can become quite large; for some, the size of a jackfruit.

"In Jamaica, for some reason, fibroids are particularly common and the ones that we see are particularly big, and those are the ones that cost most of the problems that patients have," he added.

Fletcher noted that studies are showing that spicy foods may be a causal factor for uterine fibroids.

Lisa-Ann O'Gilvie, a woman who struggled with uterine fibroids, shared her experience on the show and is doing further work to help bring awareness to the issue.

"We are hoping to spur persons to talk more freely about fibroids in the workplace and how many women are affected, which is a fairly silent issue," noted Lisa-Ann O'Gilvie, founder of Caribbean Woman, an organisation which is spearheading activities to build fibroids awareness.

It will begin with National Fibroid Awareness Week - May 15-21 - in recognition of the socio-economic impact of the widespread illness.

"The overall campaign's events, media programming and social media activities encourage women to explore all their available options to improve their quality of life and take charge of their reproductive health," said O'Gilvie, further adding that emphasis has also been placed on encouraging the male partners and friends of affected women to get involved and become more informed about how fibroids affect them.

An innovative feature of the campaign is the Campaign Ambassador programme, which is inviting women around the island to host lunch hour meet-up events in their offices to discuss the illness and possible avenues of support for affected colleagues.

A number of events/activities can be of benefit to women, their families and co-workers:

• The campaign week begins with a medical symposium on May 15 - 'Uterine Leiomyloma: Current Research, Modern Management and Best Practices', scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the Sir Kenneth Standard Lecture Theatre, at the UWI, Mona.

• On Fibroid Awareness Day - Wednesday, May 18 - a major pullout feature will be published in The Gleaner.

• A free public seminar at the Karl Hendricks Auditorium, Jamaica College, culminates the campaign on Saturday, May 21. Open to both men and women, the event will feature a range of presentations, one-on-one brief consultations with medical and other experts, and will showcase some of the available products and services that women can take advantage of.

"Embarrassment, fear, the attendant costs, a wait-and-see approach and, in some cases, ignorance, are factors that influence how chronic uterine fibroids can become. In some cases, fibroids have been a launch pad for a number of secondary illnesses, which require other medical interventions," said the advocate.

"This directly impacts the allocation of and demands made on finite public health resources, where a major waiting list exists for fibroid surgery."

The list of confirmed campaign partners reflect a range of medical organisations representing physicians and the public health sector. They include the Ministry of Health, the National Family Planning Board - Sexual Health Agency, the Medical Association of Jamaica, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, West Indies Chapter, the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica, the Grabham Society (Jamaica Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists), the Nurses Association of Jamaica, the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, Jamaica Chapter and the Jamaica Mid Life Health Society, among others.

- For more details, visit the campaign website www.fibroidsjamaica.com or the Facebook page 'Fibroids Jamaica'. Remember, you can watch the 'Doctor's Appointment: Uterine Fibroids' Episode 4 - on the Doctor's Appointment MCA YouTube channel and watch original episodes on TVJ, Sundays at 5:30 p.m. and offer feedback on the Doctor's Appointment Facebook Page - Doctors_Appt.