Women who have had uterine surgery or hysterectomy can tell you that the recovery can be long and painful. So when a new technique known as morcellation became available–which allowed laparoscopic hysterectomies or uterine fibroid removal–it was seen as a great medical step forward.
Now, morcellation is being linked with the spread of a rare but deadly form of cancer known as uterine sarcoma. In April 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned physicians and patients that, based on currently available information, laparoscopic power morcellation should not be used. Johnson & Johnson, the largest manufacturer of these medical devices, has suspended sales.
WHAT IS MORCELLATION?
Traditional surgery for uterine problems involves cutting open the abdomen, which requires weeks of painful recovery. Laparoscopic surgery involves using three small incisions and small, thin, lighted instruments to perform the surgery with a minimal amount of cutting into muscle tissue. The problem has always been how to remove larger body tissue–such as uterine fibroids or the uterus itself–through these tiny laparoscopic “keyhole” incisions.
The answer, at least initially, was morcellation. The instrument (a “morcellator”) has a rotating blade on its end (think about a blender blade), which could chop the large tissue into smaller bits that could then be removed through the tiny incisions.
Think about what happens if you forget to put the lid on when you turn on the blender. A morcellator has a similar problem. Some bits of body tissue can escape into the abdominal cavity. In some cases, this can mean that bits of fibroid could take hold in other places in the body.
But in some cases, the bits of tissue that are chopped by the morcellator harbor cancer cells. In that case, it’s like tossing cancer seeds into the abdomen–what had been contained in the uterus now spreads throughout the abdomen.
According to an FDA Safety Alert:
Importantly, based on an FDA analysis of currently available data, it is estimated that 1 in 350 women undergoing hysterectomy or myomectomy for the treatment of fibroids is found to have an unsuspected uterine sarcoma, a type of uterine cancer that includes leiomyosarcoma. If laparoscopic power morcellation is performed in women with unsuspected uterine sarcoma, 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.
WHAT TO DO
According to the FDA, if you have already undergone a hysterectomy or surgery for fibroids, tissue removed during the procedure is typically tested for the presence of cancer. If you were informed these tests were normal and you have no symptoms, routine follow-up with your physician is recommended. Patients with persistent or recurrent symptoms or questions should consult their health care provider.
HensonFuerst is currently investigating cases of cancer spread after morcellation surgery. If you had surgery using and morcellator and have since been diagnosed with cancer in your abdomen, we would like to speak with you. Please contact our investigative attorneys at 1-800-4-LAWMED. If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.