Largest study of its kind reveals genetics of fibroids

A genome-wide association study finds 22 regions of the genome linked to uterine fibroids, sparking hopes for better drug treatments.

Image credit: Davide Bonazzi (CC BY 4.0)

Fibroids – also known as uterine leiomyomas, or myomas – are a very common form of benign tumor that grows in the muscle wall of the uterus. As many as 70% of women develop fibroids in their lifetime. About a fifth of women report symptoms including severe pain, heavy bleeding during periods and complications in pregnancy. In the United States, the cost of treating fibroids is estimated to be $34 billion each year.

Despite the prevalence of fibroids in women, there are few treatments available. Drugs to target them have limited effect and often an invasive procedure such as surgery is needed to remove the tumors. However, a better understanding of the genetics of fibroids could lead to a way to develop better treatment options.

Välimäki, Kuisma et al. used a genome-wide association study to seek out DNA variations that are more common in people with fibroids. Using data from the UK Biobank, the genomes of over 15,000 women with fibroids were analyzed against a control population of over 392,000 individuals. The analysis revealed 22 regions of the genome that were associated with fibroids. These regions included genes that may well contribute to fibroid development, such as the gene TP53, which influences the stability of the genome, and ESR1, which codes for a receptor for estrogen – a hormone known to play a role in the growth of fibroids. Variation in a set of genes known to control development of the female reproductive organs was also identified in women with fibroids.

The findings are the result of the largest genome-wide association study on fibroids, revealing a set of genes that could influence the development of fibroids. Studying these genes could lead to more effective drug development to treat fibroids. Revealing this group of genes could also help to identify women at high risk of developing fibroids and help to prevent or manage the condition.