Fibroids Are Not Cervical Cancer: Learn Why and How to Reduce Your Cancer Risk.

Fibroids Are Not Cervical Cancer: Learn Why and How to Reduce Your Cancer Risk.

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 A young woman experiencing stomach pain while lying on the sofa at home.

Beauty influencer Jessica Pettway died in 2024 at age 36 from cervical cancer—a highly preventable and treatable disease when caught early. Pettway said she had been misdiagnosed as having uterine fibroids, a very common condition among women in their 30s and 40s. Fibroids affect up to 70% of white women and 80% of Black women.

Since Pettway’s tragic death, patients have been calling with concerns that their fibroids might be associated with cervical cancer

Advanced cervical cancer and fibroids share some symptoms, such as pain in the pelvis and frequent urination. Advanced cervical cancer can also cause abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina. Typically, cervical cancer is detected at early stage because of early detection tool such as pap smear and HPV tests.

Without knowing the specifics of her case, it is difficult to understand how Pettway’s misdiagnosis might have happened. Research shows people from historically minoritized backgrounds are misdiagnosed more often, and face healthcare challenges, including access, mistrust, and bias that could have impacted her care.

Let me be clear: There is no connection between cancer of the cervix and fibroids, which are benign growths in the uterus. Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers we can prevent, with regular screenings and the HPV vaccine.

Fibroids are not cancer.

Uterine fibroids, or uterine leiomyomas, are muscular tumors that grow in the uterus, and most do not cause symptoms. Sometimes, they can cause heavy bleeding or painful periods, pain and pressure in the pelvis, frequent urination, or pain during sexual intercourse. 

Women with fibroids have a higher rate of cesarean section, and in rare cases, the growths can lead to reproductive problems like infertility.

Fibroids are not cancer, and having fibroids does not increase your risk of getting cancer. Cancerous fibroids, called leiomyosarcoma, are very rare and aren’t caused by existing fibroids.

Most people with fibroids take a “wait and see” approach to monitoring with their doctor. At MedStar Health’s National Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery, fibroids that cause severe symptoms can be treated with:


  • Medications: While medications that affect the hormones can regulate the menstrual cycle and shrink fibroids, they do not eliminate the growths.
  • Uterine fibroid embolization: This procedure involves injecting microscopic particles into specific blood vessels to cut off blood flow to the fibroids, shrinking them over time.
  • Laser removal: Endometrial ablation uses a laser to destroy the fibroids.
  • Surgery: In a myomectomy procedure, a surgeon removes the fibroids from the uterus. In severe cases, a hysterectomy to remove the uterus is considered.

If you have heavy bleeding during your period or pain and pressure in your pelvis, talk with your doctor about fibroids.

Related reading:
Think a Hysterectomy is the Only Solution for Fibroids? Think Again.

Cervical cancer is preventable.

Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which connects the vagina to the uterus. Most patients are over 30, and it is almost always caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). Each year, about 11,500 new cases are diagnosed, and about 4,000 women die of the disease.

Cervical cancer can be prevented with regular screening tests (pap smear and HPV tests) and the HPV vaccine. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and while half of sexually active people will have it at some point, few will develop cancer.

Other factors that increase your risk of cervical cancer include:

  • Chlamydia
  • Exposure to the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) given between 1938 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage
  • HPV infection
  • Long-term use of birth control pills
  • Restricted access to healthcare and nutritious food
  • Smoking
  • Three or more full-term pregnancies or a first full-term pregnancy before age 20.
  • Weakened immune system (due to HIV infection, for example)

Early-stage cervical cancer is one of the most treatable cancers. Treatment for cervical cancer depends on how advanced it is and your age, health, and preferences. MedStar Washington Hospital Center provides advanced treatment such as minimally invasive and robotic-assisted surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Our teams of experts work with you to choose the most effective options. 

Related reading:
4 Things to Know About Cervical Cancer and HPV.

Prevent cervical cancer with screening and vaccine.

The best way to make sure you don’t have cervical cancer in the first place is to work with your doctor to make sure you’re getting regular screenings, and the HPV vaccine. When it is detected and treated early, most patients have excellent outcomes.

That’s why the United States Preventative Services Taskforce guidelines recommend all women get a Pap test beginning at age 21:

  • The HPV test looks for HPV, the virus that causes the cells of your cervix to become cancerous. 
  • The Pap test (sometimes called Pap smear) looks for cells that could become cervical cancer if not treated. 

Both tests can be conducted in the doctor’s office or a clinic, and both are very effective at preventing advanced cervical cancer. After age 30, your doctor will talk with you about whether you should get an HPV test only, the HPV test and Pap test together, or just a Pap test.

The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Since it was first introduced in 2006, infections that cause HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 88% in teen girls and 81% in young women. 

If you are vaccinated before exposure, typically in elementary or middle school, the HPV vaccine is 97% effective in preventing cervical cancer. It is typically given in two doses, six to 12 months apart. Teens and young adults who get the vaccine later in life may need a third dose. If you are 27-45 and have not received the HPV vaccine, talk with your doctor about whether it is appropriate for you. 

Screenings and vaccines can significantly reduce your risk of cervical cancer, but only if you use them. By keeping your gynecologic health appointments and receiving the vaccine, you can do a lot to help yourself stay cancer-free.  

Are you having heavy periods or pelvic pain?

Our experts can help. Click below to learn more.

Uterine Fibroids

Cervical Cancer

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