Dr. John Lipman explains why uterine fibroids are common in African American women
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Dr. John Lipman earned the title of “trailblazer” in uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), when he discovered new treatment for the painful condition faced by 1 in 3 women in the United States — uterine fibroid tumors. “The procedure was discovered by accident,” he says. “We’d been embolizing tumors for many years. It’s a way to cut the tumor off from the blood supply to make it an easier surgery.”

Dr. Lipman described how physicians in France who performed embolizations on patients scheduled for hysterectomies, discovered that six to eight weeks later the symptoms disappeared. “They would call their gynecologist because they no longer had symptoms. This was some dramatic stuff that needed to be reviewed. I listened to that presentation and brought that technology back to Atlanta. I have the largest practice in Atlanta and in the country. I have done over 3,000 fibroid embolizations,” shares the Georgetown University School of Medicine graduate. –yvette caslin

How would you describe fibroids to a layperson?
“The fibroids are hard and firm. They’re like rocks. The ones that are in the [uterine] lining stretch [it] and cause heavy flooding, gushing-like periods. [Women] are often significantly anemic, tired and worn out from the heavy bleeding each month. The ones that are near the bladder may cause significant urinary frequency. The ones that are on the sides of the uterus [will] press on pelvic nerves and cause pain.”

What other symptoms can fibroid tumors cause?
“Very heavy bleeding, significant pelvic pain [and] urinary frequency … [some] symptoms cause women to wake up in the middle of the night.”

How common are uterine fibroids in African American women?
“With African American women of childbearing age, up to 80 percent have fibroids.”

Why are fibroids so prevalent in African American women?
“Two reasons — one is that it runs in certain African American families. We [only] know the chromosome that it’s on. To effect change and try to … identify which families might be involved and to develop a vaccine ahead of time, you really need to get to the gene level. The other reason is body fat. Estrogen stimulates fibroids — that’s why they grow during pregnancy and why they’re not an issue with menopause. The more fat that you have, the more the estrogen stimulates [your] fibroids.”

John Lipman, MD, is the medical director and director of interventional radiology for Emory-Adventist Hospital.