Fibroid surgery is potentially dangerous, but sadly not uncommon. After all, fibroids—non-cancerous tumors of the uterus—are a pretty common problem. Especially among black women, who develop these tumors at a higher rate than other women. In fact, by the time they reach 50, 80% of black women will develop fibroids. (Compare that to other groups of women, where the rate drops to 50% by age 50.)
Fortunately, fibroids are fairly easy to treat. Unfortunately, many women opt for what they think is minimally invasive fibroid surgery. And then, they end up dying. Why? Because the surgeries they thought would cure them actually spread undiagnosed uterine cancer to other parts of their bodies. Of course, this could happen to any woman with fibroids. But as it turns out, it’s impacting black women at a higher rate of danger.
Fibroid Surgery Can Spread Cancer
So many doctors recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove a woman’s fibroids. They claim it is a minimally invasive procedure. But, because it may involve the use of a surgical instrument called a power morcellator, it is actually an extremely dangerous procedure.
Why? Morcellators divide and remove large masses of tissue, like fibroids. during laparoscopic surgery. In fibroid surgeries, the tumors are chopped up (or morcellated) into smaller pieces so they can easily be removed through the small incision.
This is all well and good if a woman is completely healthy. If, however, she has undiagnosed uterine cancer, some of the cancer cells may be spread while the non-cancerous fibroids are being morcellated. And, if the cancer is leiomyosarcoma, or LMS, (an aggressive form of uterine cancer) doctors are unlikely to notice the cancer cells until they are in the middle of surgery, or, even worse, after the procedure is done and the tissue is being examined in the lab. At either of those stages, damage may already have been done. Cancer could be spread outside the woman’s uterus.
Cancer Could be Hiding Next to Fibroids
While fibroids are non-cancerous tumors, some may also be attached to cancerous cells. And if those cancerous cells are LMS, they will likely give no warning signs or symptoms until it’s too late.
Now, when LMS stays in your uterus, there’s only a 50% survival rate after five years. And chopping up and spreading those cells outside your uterus decreases that already low survival rate.
And here’s even more bad news. Not only are black women at a higher risk of developing fibroids, they are also two to three times more likely to have LMS than white women. When you combine those two factors, it adds up to this fact: black women who get laparoscopic fibroid surgery or laparoscopic hysterectomies have an extremely high risk of spreading cancer throughout their bodies. In fact, according to the FDA, the odds are about 1 in 115. Because of these risks, the FDA’s deputy director for science advises against this procedure. Says Dr.
William Maisel, “In general, the procedure should not be performed.”
Morcellators are Still In Use
While no longer recommended, we know that some women in this country still have laparoscopic surgeries with morcellators. And many of the women receiving these operations don’t even know their risks! Plus, the FDA now says you shouldn’t use the power morcellator without a cell containment system in place.
Now, that’s an important safety update. But, while reviewing morcellator safety, the FDA heard testimony from injured women–and not one black woman was included in the group. That means we need help spreading the word. Tell your friends with fibroids that laparoscopic fibroid surgery could be fatal. Then, send them our way (or come yourself) for a fibroid treatment consultation. We can discuss safer treatment options, including Uterine Fibroid Embolization, a minimally invasive treatment option that doesn’t come with a risk of spreading uterine cancer.
Sources: US Food and Drug Administration