The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that a procedure commonly used during hysterectomies and fibroid surgeries can spread undetected cancer.
The procedure, called power morcellation, is used to grind up tissue so it can be removed through a small hole, usually in the belly button. In the process, though, some tiny bits of tissue are spread through the abdominal cavity. In roughly one patient out of 350, those tiny bits are cancerous and their spread makes the cancer far harder to treat, the FDA said in a formal safety communication notice.
Although doctors usually try to rule out cancer before performing the procedure, "there is no reliable way to determine if a uterine fibroid is cancerous prior to removal," William Maisel, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a prepared statement. "Patients should know that the FDA is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation for hysterectomy or (fibroid removal surgery), and they should discuss the risks and benefits of the available treatment options with their health care professionals."
Hooman Noorchashm, a surgeon at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, praised the move. "This is a clear example of the federal government acting intelligently, expeditiously and compassionately to eliminate a definitive public health hazard," said Noorchashm, whose wife Amy Reed, an anesthesiologist, received the power morcellation procedure last October and was left with an extremely lethal form of cancer.
Reed and Noorchashm, who have six children under 13, have aggressively lobbied doctors, hospitals, manufacturers and the FDA to stop the procedure. The couple set up an online petition that has received nearly 8,000 signatures, and have received coverage in a number of media outlets, including USA TODAY.
Brigham and Women's, the Harvard-affiliated hospital where Reed had her surgery, limited use of power morcellators in late March, and announced Thursday that it would immediately suspend uses in all cases.