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Research IDs Genetic Basis for Fibroid Tumors

Could lead to non-surgical treatment of the benign lesions that often affect black women

TUESDAY, Jan. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified genetic differences that help explain why uterine fibroid tumors are about four times more common in black women.

This information may lead to new non-surgical treatments for these benign tumors, according to the researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The non-cancerous growths affect 20 percent to 40 percent of women over age 35 and can cause pelvic pain, complications for pregnancy and heavy menstrual bleeding.

The study included of 328 women -- 186 had fibroid tumors and 142 were tumor-free. The researchers examined the frequency of a genetic alteration (polymorphism) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene in the women. The COMT gene plays an important role in estrogen metabolism.

Women with high activity COMT were more likely to have fibroid tumors. The study also found that 47 percent of black women had high activity COMT, compared with 30 percent of Hispanic women and 19 percent of white women.

The researchers also found that COMT-inhibiting drugs decreased the activity of certain estrogen-dependent genes, which caused the fibroid cells to stop growing.

The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of the Society for Gynecologic Investigation.

"In this work, we provide for the first time, a genetic explanation for this interesting observation that uterine fibroids are much more common in black women," lead investigator Dr. Ayman Al-Hendy, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said in a prepared statement.

"Now, by inhibiting the COMT enzyme, we are creating an environment inside the tumor cells that is low in estrogen bioactivity. Once the tumor cells are deprived of their estrogen, they cannot grow and they become unhealthy and eventually die, which may lead to shrinkage of the tumor."

This research could eventually lead to the development of drug treatment for fibroid tumors, which could decrease the need for surgery, the researchers said.

"Our goal is to develop non-surgical alternatives for women who do not desire to have a hysterectomy. It is also important that we are aware of the ethnic disparities seen with fibroid tumors so we can provide the best possible care for our patients," Al-Hendy said.

More information

The Society of Interventional Radiology has more about uterine fibroids.

SOURCE: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, news release, Jan. 31, 2006
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