WASHINGTON, D. C. – U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown says that developing uterine fibroids “was like having an uninvited guest take over your body, month after month, for years,” creating painful, unpredictable menstrual messes that took such a mental toll that she finally resorted to getting a hysterectomy.

The Warrensville Heights Democrat on Thursday brought her battle against the common medical condition to Congress, introducing legislation she’s dubbed the U-FIGHT Act: The Uterine Fibroid Intervention and Gynecological Health and Treatment Act.

It would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to increase early detection of and intervention for uterine fibroids, education and awareness programs, and research. The grants would also address another uterine condition called Asherman’s syndrome, uterine scar tissue build-up following surgery, as well as disparities in pain control and management as it relates to uterine fibroids.

Medical experts estimates that 40% to 80% of women develop non-cancerous uterine tumors known as fibroids. Sometimes, they don’t cause difficulties. In other cases, the pain, and heavy, irregular bleeding they cause are disruptive. They’re most common in Black women, who tend to develop them at younger ages and be more likely to need medical treatment. Doctors don’t know their cause or why they’re more prevalent in Black women.

Brown said that Black women are three times more likely to be hospitalized for fibroids than white women, and three times more likely to need a hysterectomy. Despite the prevalence of fibroids, Brown says there’s no comprehensive federal program to address them. She said her bill would encourage early detection, treatment, education and research.

“A lot of women, a lot of Black women, when there is so much pain, they think that this is just part of being a woman, a normal part of your period,” Brown said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “Too many women delay medical care or are denied full treatment and care because they don’t know that the symptoms they’re suffering through aren’t normal.”

Brown’s legislation has 50 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, all Democrats. She says she’s working on bringing Republicans on board and getting similar legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate.

It is endorsed by organizations that include The White Dress Project, The Fibroid Foundation, Black Health Matters, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Birthing Beautiful CommunitiesThe Center for Black Health & Equity, University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, and MetroHealth.

“Lack of research in the evaluation and treatment of fibroids and their much higher rates in black women reflects a significant disparity in our current health care system and we’re hopeful that this legislation will improve the health of women in Northeast Ohio and all across the country,” Elyse Mulligan, University Hospitals’ manager of public policy and community health engagement, said at the press conference.

Cleveland Clinic Chief of Staff Beri Ridgeway issued a statement that described providing education, research, and access to screening for uterine fibroids as “important to improving the quality of care for the millions of women affected by them.

“While not all fibroids require treatment, detection and intervention can reduce symptoms and complications, particularly among women of color, who are impacted by them at a higher rate,” her statement continued.

“We look forward to working with Congresswoman Brown to advance legislation that would expand access to early screenings and detection methods for uterine fibrosis, a debilitating condition that impacts millions of women, especially women of color,” agreed a statement from MetroHealth President & CEO Airica Steed. “Together, we can create a healthier community for every woman.”

Brown acknowledged passing her bill might be an uphill battle. She noted that her long-ago congressional predecessor Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who represented the same congressional district from 1999 to 2008, first introduced a separate bill called the Uterine Fibroids Research and Education Act in 2001.

More than 20 years later, other members of Congress are still introducing the same bill to support National Institutes of Health research into uterine fibroids, in hopes it will eventually pass. These days, the bill is called the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act.

Brown said she believes that thanks to the work that public health and women’s health advocates are doing, chances for passing legislation to fight fibroids has improved since Tubbs Jones first introduced her bill in 2001.

“Let’s help women learn the facts,” said Brown. “Let’s expand access. Let’s study the problem. And let’s solve the problem.”

Cleveland.com |  Sabrina Eaton