As fibroid specialists, we’ve been warning women about power morcellator treatment for some time. Two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning for women with fibroids. It revealed that this common fibroid treatment can spread cancer cells in women’s bodies! Last year, the FDA updated its warnings to reflect the serious risk of the power morcellator. And recently, two new studies (and one devastating lawsuit) confirmed the deadly consequences of using this tool on unsuspecting women.
Fibroid Treatment Options
Here at our Houston practice, we offer minimally invasive fibroid treatment. But many women with fibroids choose surgical treatment. Then, during that surgery, the fibroid removal involves a power morcellator. This is a machine that shreds the benign tumors inside the uterus. Some doctors like this treatment option because it is relatively non-invasive, compared to traditional surgery. Plus, it leaves women with smaller scars, and results in almost no down time. Unfortunately, it has now become clear that this supposedly non-invasive treatment option could actually act as a silent killer!
How a Power Morecellator Spreads Danger
While fibroids are non-cancerous tumors, the FDA reports that 1 in 350 women who are undergoing fibroid removal treatments are also suffering from undetected cancer! And new research published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology confirms these findings. Researchers from the University of Michigan followed just over 2500 women receiving fibroid treatment in 2013. And one out of every 368 of the women had undetected uterine cancer. So, if her surgeons used a morcellator, they would spread cancer in her body.
Why? For those women who have cancer cells at the time of their treatment, the power morcellator actually makes their cases worse in two ways. First, it increases the risk of leaving behind the shredded, cancerous cells. Second: the morcellator spreads those cells around to a larger area of the uterus. Then, in some cases, those cells spread cancer to other parts of the body!
One Woman’s Cautionary Tale
Dawn Green, who lives in Ontario Canada, knows all too well the danger of power morcellators. Back in 2010, she has a hysterectomy to treat her fibroids. Unfortunately, her surgeons used a power morcellator during the procedure. Then, five years later, Dawn woke up with severe abdominal pain. And, after some scans at her doctor’s office, that pain turned out to be a sign of uterine leiomyosarcoma. (This is a type of cancer that doesn’t respond to chemo or radiation.) And the tumors were in her stomach.
But how did uterine cancer tumors end up in her abdomen? The morcellator sprayed undiagnosed cancer cells into her stomach. And that means Dawn will spend the rest of her life getting scanned for cancer every three months. Which is why she sued the makers of the power morcellator. And why she wants other women to avoid this devastating outcome after their own fibroid procedures.
Proceeding with Caution
Given the risk, the FDA originally advised caution when considering this approach to fibroid treatment. Now, their updated guidance suggests morcellators should be packaged with boxed-warnings to reflect the risk of spreading cancer. This combines with previous warnings to only use the power morecellator with containment systems. And to limit its use to women who are under 50 and haven’t entered menopause.
Still, a second new study–this one in the JAMA Oncology–offered one small positive effect linked to morcellator use. Researchers said that when surgeons use a power morcellator to remove fibroids, their female patients face a lower risk of undetected cancer than women who undergo hysterectomy. At the same time, they note that using the morcellator gets more dangerous as women age. And they emphasize the sketchy safety history linked to this device.
As any woman with fibroids can appreciate, minimally invasive treatments are ideal, but not at the expense of overall health! In our Houston Fibroids practice, Drs. Fox and Hardee offer a different kind of procedure: a truly non invasive treatment that doesn’t put other areas of your health at risk!
A Better Choice Than the Power Morcellator
Known as Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE), treatment is administered through an artery in your left wrist. Using special X-ray equipment, a catheter (small tube) goes through the femoral artery and into the uterine artery, near your fibroid tumors. When it reaches the right spot, the doctors simply inject small spheres through the catheter and into the blood flow leading to the uterine fibroid tumors. Next, those small spheres (embolic materials) block the vessels around the fibroid, cutting off the blood and oxygen it needs to grow. This blockage makes fibroids shrink, and the spheres stay in your blood vessels permanently so the fibroids don’t grow back!
Not only is this procedure fairly quick and easy (you can sit up and walk almost immediately after treatment) it is also a much safer option. UFE patients avoid surgery, general anesthesia, and. most importantly, the risk of spreading dangerous cancer cells throughout their bodies!
While UFE is not for everyone, it is a great choice for those who qualify. If you are interested in learning more, please schedule an in office consultation with our team!
Sources: U.S. Food & Drug Administration