A: That’s true, and you and thousands of other women have dodged a bullet. That wasn’t the case for 41-year-old Dr. Amy Reed. When she had a hysterectomy, she never suspected the minimally invasive procedure (power or electric laparoscopic hysterectomy morcellation) could make her far sicker than the discomfort she was experiencing from uterine fibroids. But the power tool that minced up the fibroids — a morcellator — spewed cancer cells (hidden inside the fibroids) throughout her abdominal cavity. Less than a week after the procedure, she was diagnosed with stage IV leiomyosarcoma — a particularly difficult form of uterine cancer. She and her husband started a campaign to let docs know that this was a dangerous technique and they should stop doing it. Her effort, along with several important studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association, finally got the Food and Drug Administration’s attention. In April, the FDA issued an advisory: “Based on currently available information, the FDA discourages the use of laparoscopic power morcellation during hysterectomy or myomectomy for uterine fibroids.”
How did doctors not know before? Surgical techniques, unlike medical devices and drugs, don’t go through the FDA’s approval process. So problems might not become widely recognized until thousands of procedures have been done. And most medical professionals have been taught that cancer-containing fibroids are very rare, but researchers have recently found they’re nine times more common than generally expected.
Doctors are working on ways to contain fibroid tissue as it is morcellated inside the body so that cancerous cells are not spread, but for now it appears that laparoscopic or abdominal surgery that extracts the fibroids whole is the safe alternative.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.