A surgical tool widely used to laparoscopically remove uterine fibroids or perform hysterectomies can spread cancer often in situations where cancer was previously undiagnosed, and can worsen survival in patients who have cancer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned.
The surgical tool, known as a power morcellator, is used with a tube-shaped blade that grinds up and removes uterine growths or entire uteruses. The tool was introduced in the 1990s and since then has been used in about 50,000 procedures a year. The morcellator has been preferred over traditional surgery because it is less invasive and allows for faster recovery.
However, because cancer is often undiagnosed at the time procedures are performed with the surgical tool, the process of grinding the tissue within the body has raised concerns of cancer spread in patients with a type of uterine cancer known as uterine sarcoma.
The FDA launched an investigation into the devices and found an estimated 1 in 350 women develops uterine sarcoma after undergoing morcellator procedures.
“If laparoscopic power morcellation is performed in (women with uterine cancer), there is a risk that the procedure will spread the cancerous tissue within the abdomen and pelvis, significantly worsening the patient’s likelihood of long-term survival,” the FDA warned in a safety announcement last April after conducting a review of the devices.
The FDA recommends that before performing procedures using power morcellators, doctors make their patients aware of the risks. Doctors are also advised to follow up with patients on whom they have performed laparoscopic morcellation procedures for hysterectomies or myomectomies (removal of fibroids only), even if the patients do not have symptoms of uterine cancer and were told following their procedure that their tests were normal.
Women who have undergone a hysterectomy or myomectomy with power morcellation who have persistent or recurrent symptoms of uterine cancer should consult with their doctors. Symptoms of uterine sarcoma include abnormal menstrual bleeding or bleeding after menopause, abnormal vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, or pelvic mass.