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While medical researchers have not been able to pinpoint exactly what causes uterine fibroids in women, studies have suggested that family history, a diet heavy with red meat and obesity may all be contributing factors.
One study released this year by researchers at Boston University, however, suggested there may be a link between the kinds of hair relaxers used by millions of black women to increased instances of fibroid tumors.
Dr. Ray L. Howell, an obstetrician, gynecologist, and surgeon based in Atlanta who has specialized in women’s issues for 25 years, has co-authored the book, “Black Women and Fibroids: A Conversation with Black Women,” that cites the study conducted between 1997 and 2009, involving 23,580 pre-menopausal African-American women. The study found 7,146 cases of fibroids—a rate two to three times higher than for women who did not use relaxers.
The increased incidence may be linked to exposure to thyalates, chemicals added to the perfume portion of relaxers that may mimic estrogen-like materials that encourage fibroid growth. It is believed they may enter the body through scalp lesions and burns caused by relaxers.
Howell’s said the study was not conclusive enough to make a direct link between hair relaxers and fibroids and further study was warranted. It did urge women who use relaxers, however, to avoid getting scalp burns or scars from the formulas to reduce the chances of thyalates getting into the bloodstream.
Fibroid tumors grow in the uterus, generally are not cancerous and can be as small as a pea or grow as large as a melon. It is estimated that 20-50 percent of women, overall, have, or will have, fibroids at some time in their lives, while 80 percent of African-American women are likely to get them before the age of 50.