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Medical device to remove fibroids causes cancer to spread

Written by Diane Archer

About half of all women have uterine fibroids. Some need them removed. A story in Boston Magazine explains how a medical device to quickly remove fibroids causes hidden cancer to spread, harming patients unnecessarily. Would you think to ask your doctor about the potential risks of using this or any other surgical device? It’s clear we should. (Here’s a set of questions you should always ask your doctor before surgery.)

Instead of taking out a fibroid mass in one piece, doctors may use a power morcellator when they perform laparoscopic surgery. It is an easy and inexpensive tool. It minces and suctions up the fibroid. But, in the process, it can also chop up a cancer that may be growing hidden in the uterine wall and scatter it throughout the abdomen. That’s what happened to Amy Reed, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts.

As a result, after her operation, Reed’s doctor let her know she had an aggressive cancer, and her doctor told her she needed another operation to remove her ovaries.  Amy ended up needing four more operations to remove new tumors that were seeded in her abdominal cavity, along with chemotherapy.

Amy’s husband has made sure that everyone knows the danger of power morcellation, to prevent its use for the removal of fibroids. He has managed to get some health insurers to stop paying for procedures that remove fibroids using morcellators. And, he has enlisted two members of Congress to review the current FDA process for reviewing new medical devices, as well as requirements for manufacturers to report adverse events. The FDA did not require pre-market testing of morcellators in women with fibroids.

Johnson and Johnson no longer sells its morcellator. The FDA has now issued an opinion discouraging the use of morcellators to remove fibroids and put a black-box warning on their use for fibroid removal.

The FDA recently stated that the odds are abut one in 350 that someone needing surgery to remove a fibroid will have a cancer as well. If a fibroid is removed in one piece, there is a 50 percent survival rate for people with cancer. With morcellation, the survival rate drops to 20 percent or less.

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