TUESDAY, Dec. 20, 2011 (HealthDay News) --Uterine fibroids are a significant economic drain on the U.S. health care system, costing anywhere from $5.9 billion to $34.4 billion a year, according to a new report.
The costs come largely from lost work and disability but also include medical treatment as well as obstetric complications, said the report, which appears in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
"Fibroids are one of the most costly conditions even at the lower limit of $5.1 billion, which is a considerable expense," said study senior author Dr. James Segars.
According to Segars, who is head of the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility unit at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, uterine fibroids are one of the most common reproductive disorders in women, affecting about half of women before they reach menopause.
Fibroids -- which are benign tumors -- result in 30,000 myomectomies (removal of the fibroids) and 200,000 hysterectomies (complete removal of the uterus) among U.S. women each year.
Even women who don't have surgery often are hospitalized or require medications and other treatments. And the toll is especially high among pregnant women, according to the report.
Although other studies have estimated the costs of fibroids, none has included the cost of obstetric complications attributable to uterine fibroids, said Segars, who spoke at a Tuesday teleconference.
Looking at several sources of data, the study authors concluded that about half a million American women seek treatment for fibroids annually. That's about 1 percent of the nearly 64 million women who have fibroids.
Pregnancy-related costs of fibroids were estimated at $238 million to $7.7 billion a year.
The annual direct costs -- including surgery, hospitalization, medication and outpatient treatment -- ranged from $4.1 billion to $9.1 billion a year.
The largest contributor was lost work, which ranged from $1.5 billion to $17.2 billion a year.
"If one could minimize the number of women undergoing hysterectomies, we would be able to save 25 percent annually due to lost work," Segars said.
"These results emphasize the importance of developing new, effective treatments and earlier diagnosis for fibroids," he said.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on uterine fibroids.