When I was in graduate school, my friend Sonya believed her intrauterine device (IUD) was the reason she was getting debilitating cramps and prolonged menstruations. Neither of us knew about fibroids—tumors that grow in the uterus—or that they were growing inside her uterus.

Twenty to 80 percent of women develop fibroids during their childbearing years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. While this statistic is an attention-getter, most women are unaffected. Sonya was not so lucky. By the time her fibroids were diagnosed during a routine ultrasound, her 11-week-old fetus was already dead, the victim of several grapefruit-sized fibroids that had claimed Sonya’s uterine blood supply for themselves.

Over the years, Sonya’s massive fibroids had evaded detection during gynecological exams. During the ultrasound, however, a nurse told her that he could feel them through her abdominal wall. It was the first time a medical professional