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"This is the second prospective study to show an association between childhood abuse and uterine fibroids diagnosed during adulthood," study leader Lauren Wise, senior epidemiologist at Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center, said in a university news release.
This association may be due to the effects of mental stress on sex steroid hormones, which are thought to be involved in fibroid development and growth, Wise said.
In addition, child sexual abuse can lead to sexually transmitted infections, which may also increase fibroid risk, she explained in the news release.
For the study, published online Jan. 24 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Wise and colleagues looked at data from about 9,900 participants in the U.S. Black Women's Health Study.
The investigators found that the incidence of uterine fibroids was 34 percent higher in women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse and 16 percent higher among those with a history of childhood physical abuse.
The more severe the abuse, the greater a woman's risk for uterine fibroids, according to the study, which found a link between abuse and uterine fibroids but did not prove cause-and-effect.
The researchers also found that the risk of uterine fibroids was lower in women who reported high levels of coping with childhood abuse. This suggests emotional support helps to buffer the effects of violence. And there was little indication that abuse during adolescence and adulthood increased the risk of fibroids, the study authors said.
Uterine fibroids are two to three times more common among black women than whites, according to background information in the news release.
The study does not prove that childhood violence causes uterine fibroids. Still, Wise said, "given the high prevalence of fibroids in African-American women, the association is of public health importance."
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCE: Boston University, Jan. 28, 2013, news release