The historical mistreatment of Black bodies in gynecologic care has bled into present day inequities—from surgeries performed on enslaved Black women and sterilization of low-income Black women under federally funded programs, to higher rates of adverse health-related outcomes among Black women compared with their non-Black counterparts.1-3 Not only is the foundation of gynecology imperfect, so too is its current-day structure.
It is not enough to identify and describe racial inequities in health care; action plans to provide equitable care are called for. In this report, we aim to 1) contextualize the data on disparities in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery, specifically hysterectomy and myomectomy candidates and postsurgical outcomes, and 2) provide recommendations to close racial gaps in gynecologic treatment for more equitable experiences for minority women.
Black women and uterine fibroids
Uterine leiomyomas, or fibroids, are not only the most common benign pelvic tumor but they also cause a significant medical and financial burden in the United States, with estimated direct costs of $4.1 ̶ 9.4 billion.4 Fibroids can affect fertility and cause pain, bulk symptoms, heavy bleeding, anemia requiring blood transfusion, and poor pregnancy outcomes. The burden of disease for uterine fibroids is greatest for Black women. While race is a social construct, women with African ancestry (who we tend to identify as having darker skin) have disproportionately higher rates of uterine fibroids. Black women experience symptoms at a younger age, spanning more of their reproductive years compared with their non-Black counterparts and their disease is often more severe compared with White women.5
The incidence of fibroids is 2 to 3 times higher in Black women compared with White women.5 According to ultrasound-based studies, the prevalence of fibroids among women aged 18 to 30 years was 26% among Black and 7% among White asymptomatic women.6 Earlier onset and more severe symptoms mean that there is a larger potential for impact on fertility for Black women. This coupled with the historical context of mistreatment of Black bodies makes the need for personalized medicine and culturally sensitive care critical. The disproportionately higher rates of uterine fibroids in Black women has been attributed to many factors, including socioeconomic status, health-care access, genetics, and lifestyle and environmental exposures, but the underlying causes of racial/ethnic differences remain unclear.7 Amazingly little data exist not only on patient preferences for management approach but also on the influence of genetic and epigenetic mediators and environmental factors that may play a role in fibroid development to guide optimal management and treatment outcomes for Black women with uterine fibroids.8
Inequitable management of uterine fibroids
Although tumor size, location, and patient risk factors are used to determine the best treatment approach, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines suggest that the use of alternative treatments to surgery should be first-line management instead of hysterectomy for most benign conditions.9 Conservative management will often help alleviate symptoms, slow the growth of fibroid(s), or bridge women to menopause, and treatment options include hormonal contraception, gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, hysteroscopic resection, uterine artery embolization, magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound, and myomectomy.
The rate of conservative management prior to hysterectomy varies by setting, reflecting potential bias in treatment decisions. Some medical settings have reported a 29% alternative management rate prior to hysterectomy, while others report much higher rates.10 A study using patient data from Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) showed that, within a large, diverse, and integrated health care system, more than 80% of patients received alternative treatments before undergoing hysterectomy; for those with symptomatic leiomyomas, 74.1% used alternative treatments prior to hysterectomy, and in logistic regression there was not a difference by race.11 Nationally, Black women are more likely to have hysterectomy or myomectomy compared with a nonsurgical uterine-sparing therapy.12,13
With about 600,000 cases per year within the United States, the hysterectomy is the most frequently performed benign gynecologic surgery.14 The most common indication is for “symptomatic fibroid uterus.” The approach to decision making for route of hysterectomy involves multiple patient and surgeon factors, including history of vaginal delivery, body mass index, history of previous surgery, uterine size, informed patient preference, and surgeon volume.15-17 ACOG recommends a minimally invasive hysterectomy (MIH) whenever feasible given its benefits in postoperative pain, recovery time, and blood loss. Myomectomy, particularly among women in their reproductive years desiring management of leiomyomas, is a uterine-sparing procedure versus hysterectomy. Minimally invasive myomectomy (MIM), compared with an open abdominal route, provides for lower drop in hemoglobin levels, shorter hospital stay, less adhesion formation, and decreased postoperative pain.18
Racial variations in hysterectomy rates persist overall and according to hysterectomy type. Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to undergo hysterectomy for leiomyomas than other racial groups.19 These differences in rates have been shown to persist even when burden of disease is the same. One study found that Black women had increased odds of hysterectomy compared with their White counterparts even when there was no difference in mean fibroid volume by race,20 calling into question provider bias. Even in a universal insurance setting, Black patients have been found to have higher rates of open hysterectomies.21 Previous studies found that, despite growing frequency of laparoscopic and robotic-assisted hysterectomies, patients of a minority race had decreased odds of undergoing a MIH compared with their White counterparts.22
While little data exist on route of myomectomy by race, a recent study found minority women were more likely to undergo abdominal myomectomy compared with White women; Black women were twice as likely to undergo abdominal myomectomy (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.9; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7–2.0), Asian American women were more than twice as likely (aOR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.8–2.8), and Hispanic American women were 50% more likely to undergo abdominal myomectomy (aOR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2–1.9) when compared with White women.23 These differences remained after controlling for potential confounders, and there appeared to be an interaction between race and fibroid weight such that racial bias alone may not explain the differences.
Finally, Black women have higher perioperative complication rates compared with non-Black women. Postoperative complications including blood transfusion after myomectomy have been shown to be twice as high among Black women compared with White women. However, once uterine size, comorbidities, and fibroid number were controlled, race was not associated with higher complications. Black women, compared with White women, have been found to have 50% increased odds of morbidity after an abdominal myomectomy.24
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