Power Morcellators and the Threat of Cancer
Hysterectomy, according to the National Institutes of Health, is one surgery that many American women will have to undergo, due to uterus-related diseases that develop in them. And with 600,000 hysterectomies being performed every year, the procedure is recognized as the second most common surgery undergone by women in the US, the first being Caesarean section.
Hysterectomy is the surgical procedure for removing the uterus or the womb – a necessary treatment for chronic pelvic pain, cervical or ovarian cancer, cancer of the uterus, certain types of infections, vaginal bleeding, uterine fibroids (benign tumors that grow in the uterus), and so forth. Traditional hysterectomy procedures, such as abdominal and vaginal hysterectomies, necessitated long incisions (about five to seven inches in abdominal hysterectomy). With the introduction of the power morcellator, however, a device that can cut or divide (morcellate) large tissues into pieces small enough to allow these to be removed through the minimal incision sites, minimally invasive hysterectomies have become possible, rendering the procedure much safer and faster to perform, less painful, safer from infections, and the tiny incisions, faster to heal.
A power morcellator is specifically used in laparoscopic surgeries. [In a laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery, about four 0.5-1cm incisions are made. The different devices needed in the procedure, such as the morcellator and a laparoscope, or small camera, are inserted through these incisions].
The many benefits of the power morcellator made many doctors readily recommend its use in laparoscopic surgeries, specifically in hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or myomectomy (removal of uterine fibroid) – until reports that the power device can cause the rapid spread of a cancerous tissue, called uterine sarcoma. The most common type of cancer that has been identified in women, who have received morcellation treatment, is leiomyosarcoma.
Following the reports was a safety alert from the US Food and Drug Administration, which discouraged further use of the power morcellator, due to the risk of cancer development in patients. Ethicon, the power morcellator manufacturing unit of Johnson & Johnson, was among the first to respond to the April 2014 safety alert from FDA. Besides suspending distribution and the worldwide sale of its morcellators, Ethicon also decided to voluntarily withdraw from the market its three famous devices: the Morcellex Sigma, the Gynecare X-Tract and the Gynecare Morcellex.
Power morcellator lawsuits are slowly growing in number and, Johnson & Johnson specifically, despite Ethicon’s decision, feels that the recall of the devices maybe a bit late as these may have already harmed a number of patients.