Each year, more than 600,000 women in the United States undergo hysterectomies or fibroid removal surgery for primarily benign conditions. A large number of these procedures is performed using a laparoscopic surgical tool called a morcellator.
Morcellation allows minimally-invasive removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) or fibroids, speeding up recovery times from weeks to days. However, experts now warn that this surgical method can greatly increase the spread of sarcoma, eventually causing morcellation cancer in patients.
1 in 350 Women Could be Affected
Morcellation cancer usually consists of sarcomas, a rare form of cancer that starts in muscle, fat, bone, and fibrous tissue. This differs from carcinomas, which are cancers starting in the organ linings. Morcellation can accelerate the spread of cancerous or pre-cancerous sarcoma cells to the abdomen. Studies show women who develop morcellation cancer are four times as likely to die than those who did not undergo the procedure.
Although evidence suggests that doctors have known about the risks of morcellation cancer for nearly 20 years, warnings have only surfaced in the last two years. In December of 2013, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology warned about the accelerated cancer risks associated with morcellation.
In April of 2014, the FDA issued a warning discouraging the further use of laparoscopic morcellation for hysterectomies or uterine fibroid removal. The agency advised that 1 in 350 patients could have sarcoma, and that the cancer can be drastically exacerbated by the procedure, shortening the lifespan of patients. Later that month, major hospitals, such as the Cleveland Clinic, announced that they were halting use of morcellators due to the published risks.
On April 30, 2014, Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of more than 75 percent of morcellation machines, announced it was suspending sales of the devices based on the FDA warning, and would alert other health regulators around the world.