A new study conducted by a group of Columbia University physicians found that a surgical procedure known as power morcellation has the potential to spread more types of cancer than previously believed. Because sarcomas are difficult to detect, surgeons may mistake them for benign fibroids and perform surgeries using morcellation.
Morcellation, a surgical procedure that breaks up tissues and fibroids and removes them through a small incision, recently came under scrutiny when the FDA announced that it was discouraging use of the procedure in surgeries where the uterus or uterine fibroids are removed. According to the FDA, 1 in 352 women who underwent these surgeries had unsuspected cancerous tumors, known as sarcomas, in their uterine tissue. Because sarcomas are difficult to detect, surgeons may mistake them for benign fibroids and perform surgeries using morcellation. If the morcellator breaks up a cancerous tumor, the cancer cells may spread throughout the body.
The newest study on this procedure, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, further supports the FDA’s findings on the risks of morcellation. In this study, researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 36,000 women who underwent hysterectomies using morcellation and found that 1 in 368 of these women had cancerous tumors in their uterine tissue.
In addition, the study found that women undergoing these surgeries are also at risk for having other types uterine cancers spread throughout the body. For example, endometrial cancer, which is much more common than sarcomas, could be spread by the procedure. According to the study, there were 99 cases where women were found to have sarcomas following their surgeries, but more than three times as many were found to have endometrial hyperplasia, a significant risk factor for developing the cancer.
The new study comes on the heels of a public meeting held earlier this month by the FDA’s panel on Obstetrics and Gynecology Devices, where doctors discussed options for reducing the risk of spreading cancer cells in patients who undergo surgeries using morcellation. While the panel voiced interest in requiring patients to sign informed consent forms before undergoing these procedures, it did not vote to place any restrictions or bans on morcellators, and the FDA has yet to issue any recalls for the problematic medical devices.