Many doctors are still using a power morcellator gynecological surgical tool for hysterectomies and removal of uterine fibroids despite a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety advisory urging surgeons to stop using them because they could spread undetected cancer and lessen one’s changes of survival.
Power morcellators are typically used with a tube-shaped blade that grinds up uterine growths or the entire uterus. Introduced in the 1990s, the devices became widely popular because they were less invasive, resulted in less scarring, and required less recovery than traditional surgery.
In recent years, questions surfaced about the safety of the devices, specifically if they could spread cancer cells throughout the uterus or uterine cavity. Uterine sarcoma is not common but if it is present at the time of the procedure then morcellation could feasibly spread cancerous tissue within the abdomen and the pelvis. This, the FDA warned in a statement, could significantly worsen a patient’s likelihood of long-term survival.
About 1 in 350 women have cancerous tissues in or around their uterine fibroids. There is no reliable method for predicting whether a woman with fibroids has uterine sarcoma, thus the instruments should not be used for these procedures, the FDA urged.
However, some doctors believe the cancer risks are overblown and that the risk is actually smaller. And, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that morcellators are an important tool and should continue to be used provided patients to undergo morcellator procedures are carefully selected.
Despite warnings to avoid the tools, the FDA says at the very least surgeons should make patients fully aware of the cancer risks before undergoing morcellator procedures. The agency also recommends doctors follow up with patients on whom they have performed the procedures even if the patients have no symptoms of uterine cancer or their tests came back normal.
The agency also advised women who have undergone morcellator procedures to consult with their doctor if they have any symptoms of uterine cancer, such as abnormal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain, or a mass.