DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A 50-year-old friend of mine was diagnosed with leiomyoma of the uterus. Does this have anything to do with fibroids? She has fibroids, but her doctor says they are best left alone, since they shrink at menopause. What causes leiomyoma? Can it become cancer? What treatments are available? — L.B.

“Leiomyoma” (LIE-oh-my-OH-muh) is the medical word for “fibroid.” Fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterine muscle. The uterus basically is a muscular sack with a lining designed to nourish a fetus.

The cause of fibroids hasn’t been determined.

They’re extremely common. By age 35, 40 to 50 percent of women have one or more. By age 50, 70 to 90 percent have at least one fibroid. For most of these women, fibroids cause no trouble and can be ignored.

Large fibroids might cause pelvic pain, and they can press on adjacent structures such as the bladder. When that happens, a woman has a need to empty her bladder frequently. Heavy menstrual bleeding is a sign of fibroids. They also can bring painful menstrual periods, and sometimes they make sexual relations uncomfortable. Infertility is cited as a possible effect, but infertility due to fibroids is rare.

Transformation into cancer is possible, but not probable. If a fibroid grows rapidly, that’s a sign of cancer change and must be investigated. Most fibroids shrink with menopause.

Doctors can treat fibroids in a number of ways. One is removal of the uterus — hysterectomy. If a woman wants more children, sometimes removal of only the fibroid is possible, and this can be managed in some cases with a scope and special instruments. Uterine artery embolization is a newer treatment in which a slender, soft tube (a catheter) is passed from a surface artery to the uterine artery. When it’s at the precise spot, the doctor releases sand-size synthetic particles that clog the artery and cut off the fibroid’s blood supply. It withers and is shed.

The booklet on fibroids describes them in detail. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 1106, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 27 and have had a staph infection on my posterior since I was 14. I have been treated by several doctors with many antibiotics, none of which improved the condition. The doctors tell me it is folliculitis. The condition makes me self-conscious about my skin. Do you know of any remedy? — N.L.

A follicle is the pore through which both a hair and oil from an oil gland emerge onto the skin’s surface. Folliculitis is inflammation of those structures, and often the cause is a staph infection. The picture of folliculitis is small red dots with a yellow center that contains pus. It can hurt or itch.

After 13 years of being bested by folliculitis, I can understand your frustration. You’ll have to declare all-out war. Wash the area at least twice a day with an antibacterial cleanser like chlorhexidine (Betasept, Hibiclens, Dyna-Hex 2). You might have a haven for staph in the lowermost part of your nose. You can eliminate it by putting a dab of Bactroban Nasal ointment in the lowermost part of each nostril twice a day for five days (prescription required). Talk with the family doctor about using an antibiotic ointment like Cleocin on the involved skin.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: We all know animals lick their wounds. When I grew up in the Netherlands, we spit on our bruised or scratched knees or elbows to heal them quicker. Does human saliva have healing capacity? I am 88 and have dry, itchy skin. When tempted to scratch, I lick my skin. The itching stops. — J.K.

Spitting on broken skin isn’t a great idea. Saliva has lots of mouth bacteria in it, and they could cause an infection.

Licking itchy skin? I don’t think there’s any danger in doing that. I’ll take your word that it works for you.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www

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