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Sexual Abuse in Kids Linked to Fibroids Later in Life

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have found that both physical and sexual abuse history were positively associated with a higher incidence of uterine fibroids later in life, according to findings published in Epidemiology.

Uterine leiomyomas, also known as fibroids or myomas, are benign, hormone-dependent tumors that are clinically symptomatic in 20-25% of reproductive age women. Fibroids contribute to a third of hysterectomies in the US, increase the risks of infertility, spontaneous abortion, and pelvic pain and have a significant impact on the quality of life for women.

Despite being the most common pelvic neoplasm in women of reproductive age, the etiology of myomas is poorly understood. A growing body of evidence indicates an association between early life social adversities and adult health. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse in childhood has been associated with increased mortality and morbidity in adulthood, and poor health behaviors.

In this study, researchers analyzed data from 68,505 premenopausal US nurses enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II; of these women, 65% reported physical or sexual abuse as a child or teen.

The researchers discovered 9,823 incident diagnoses of ultrasound- or hysterectomy confirmed uterine leiomyomas. A dose-response association between cumulative abuse and fibroid risk was found. Risk for fibroids increased from 8% to 36% among those with the mildest to most severe cumulative abuse in childhood.

"Our analyses showed that exposure to physical, sexual or emotional abuse in childhood and adolescence was associated with an increased risk for clinically symptomatic fibroid tumors in adulthood. The impact of early life adversity on fibroid risk persisted even among those with no future violence exposure in adulthood," said lead author Renee Boynton Jarrett, MD, ScD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at BUSM, in a statement.

In addition, Boynton-Jarrett and colleagues found having a consistent emotionally supportive relationship in childhood was protective when included as a covariate in the multivariate model of cumulative violence predicting leiomyoma.

According to Boynton-Jarrett, early life exposure to violence may underpin biologic and behavioral patterns that affect fibroid risk in adulthood. "Childhood abuse may have long-lasting consequences that jeopardize health and well-being not only in childhood, but adulthood as well,” she said. “We also found that emotionally supportive relationships are protective and in part buffer the negative effects of abuse on fibroid risk in adulthood. Taken together, these findings support the need for future research investigating both the health outcomes associated with child abuse, as well as the factors that may enhance biological resiliency in the face of adversity."

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