Exposure to ozone air pollution may make Black women more likely to develop fibroids.
Compared to women exposed to the lowest levels of the pollutant, Black women exposed to the highest levels had a 35% increased risk for developing the non-cancerous growths in and around their uterus. The link was even stronger among women younger than 35 and those who had given birth.
Exactly how, or even if, exposure to ozone pollution affects fibroid development is not fully understood.
“[But] we know that air pollution causes inflammation and an immune response, which are related to fibroids,” says study author Amelia Wesselink, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health.
The study — published in the May issue of the journal Human Reproduction — adds to a small, but growing body of literature that hints at a link between air pollution and fibroids. It is the first to show such a link in Black women, who are known to be disproportionately affected by fibroids, Wesselink says.
Researchers looked at three air pollutants in 56 U.S. cities between 1997 and 2011 — particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone.
The study included almost 22,000 premenopausal Black women in these cities who were part of an ongoing health study. Women answered questionnaires every two years and were followed until 2019.
During the 14-year study period, close to 30% reported having a diagnosis of fibroids that was confirmed by ultrasound or surgery.