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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 15:55 GMT
Genetic cause for fibroids
Gene defects have been linked to fibroids
Gene defects have been linked to fibroids
Defects in a particular gene could explain why some women develop fibroids in the womb.

Fibroids can cause fertility problems and blood loss, but it has not been known why they develop.

British and Finnish researchers have, for the first time, discovered a genetic cause for the growths.

Their study, published in Nature Genetics, helps doctors understand the condition which accounts for almost a quarter of all spending on the treatment of gynaecological conditions in western countries.

The identification of mutations in FH as a cause of fibroids may provide clues to understanding, treating and preventing the common form of this disease

Leiomyomata (fibroids) can affect either the skin or the womb, and commonly run in families.

Fibroids in the womb are connective tissue growths that develop from the muscular wall of the uterus or cervix. They can grow and shrink under the influence of female hormones.

Although they can be symptomless, but many women experience heavy, painful or irregular periods.

If a fibroid is large, it can cause a miscarriage, as the foetus gets bigger. Fibroids are the commonest reason for a woman to have a hysterectomy.


The British and Finnish scientists found women with multiple fibroids of both the uterus and skin were born with mutations in the fumarate hydratase (FH) gene.

FH is a "housekeeping" gene, so-called because it is an enzyme that plays a major part in energy production for the body's cells.

A reduction, or complete absence of FH activity in certain cells caused the fibroid growths to develop, suggesting that where the gene works properly, such growths would not develop.

The scientists will now begin work to look at exactly how the gene defect affects fibroid growth.

The scientists, wrote: "Although hereditary and sporadic skin leiomyomata can be very painful and cause cosmetic problems, their impact on public health is dwarfed by that of uterine fibroids.

"The identification of mutations in FH as a cause of fibroids may provide clues to understanding, treating and preventing the common form of this disease.

They suggest a metabolic "glitch" may be at the root of fibroid development, and could help understanding of the condition.

Dr Richard Houlston, a researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research who carried out the research, said preventing fibroids may one day be possible in the future.

But he added: "The treatment is still going to be removal, but if we know more about the molecular basis, then that's the important issue."

See also:

12 Feb 01 | Health
Many hysterectomies 'unnecessary'
25 Feb 00 | Health
Wombs removed 'unnecessarily'
24 Nov 99 | Health
Hysterectomy 'may improve sex'
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