Power Morcellators – How Do They Work & What Can Go Wrong?

Power morcellators – sounds like something out of a science fiction flick, or perhaps a new comic book anti-hero. However, the truth can be just as surprising.

Power morcellators are actually a medical device, used mostly for gynecologic procedures and operations – like removing fibrous cysts. It is estimated that up to 80% of women in the USA will have these cysts by the time they are 50 years old.

The majority of these cysts are benign. However, they can be quite uncomfortable – causing bleeding, pain, and even interfering with pregnancies in younger women.

HOW THE POWER MORCELLATOR WORKS

The power morcellator looks like a small, thin caulking gun – with a long nozzle on one side and two appendages at the other end. The business part of this device has extremely sharp, rotating tooth blades used to chop and mince human tissue. The long nozzle then grabs the debris back into a waiting receptacle.

When treating fibrous cysts in a woman’s uterus, the power morcellator is used to break apart and remove the unwanted tissue mass. The power morcellator is also one of the instruments used to perform a partial or complete hysterectomy – the removal of a woman’s uterus.

While at first glance the power morcellator may sound rather hellish, it does provide several advantages for the patient undergoing uterine surgery:

  • A large amount of unwanted tissue (fibroids) can be removed through a relatively small incision.
  • The procedure is quick (or quicker) than standard cut and remove surgery.
  • The patient heals faster and recovers from the surgery sooner.
  • There is less pain after the operation.

But there is a distinct downside for using the power morcellator for uterine fibroid operations.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG…

As you can imagine, there is a lot of tissue being cut up and carried away. But nothing is 100% efficient, and the power morcellator can’t grab up all the human tissue it destroys. Now here comes the problem:

The FDA estimates that out of every 350 fibroid masses detected, one will be malignant. However, the only way to determine if the tissue is malignant or not is by direct examination once it’s out of the body.

By then, it is too late because one can’t reverse what the power morcellator has already eradicated. Now, the cancerous cells that have escaped capture have free reign to travel throughout the body. Making this problem even more severe are the types of cancer associated with these infected fibrous masses – medically termed leiomyosarcomas or smooth muscle connective tissue tumors.

Uterine leiomyosarcoma tumors often have a faster growth potential because the DNA controlling their cell growth has been disrupted. Once these cancer cells escape, there is a probability they will form other cancerous nodules in the uterus, pelvis, abdomen, and surgical incision areas.

Even worse, leiomyosarcomas are a resistant type of cancer, and don’t respond well to either chemotherapy or radiation. The best method for getting rid of these tumors is to cut away the entire mass in as large amounts as possible. But the power morcellator procedure does just the opposite.

WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?

  • 500,000 women undergo fibroid removal surgery in any given year.
  • 1 out of 350 who have these fibroids actually have sarcoma– a malignant cancer. After the power morcellation process, 64% of these may develop dispersed cancers away from the original fibroid site.
  • Survival rate for these cancers (Stage 1) using standard surgery is 50% after five years.
  • If power morcellation is used, survival rate drops to only 20% after five years – because the cancer is no longer localized but has spread throughout the body.

FDA PULLS ITS SUPPORT FOR POWER MORCELLATION

On April 17, 2014 the FDA recommended power morcellation no longer be used for removal of fibroid masses within the uterus. However, this recommendation is not a ban, and if it is still used it is highly recommended the physician fully and completely outline the possible drawbacks of power morcellation over other methods available.

Johnson & Johnson, one of the makers of power morcellators has now suspended making or delivering new ones, pulled all their existing units from the medical marketplace and asked current users to return units already sold.

ALTERNATIVES TO POWER MORCELLATION

Women seeking an alternative to power morcellation may research or talk to their physician about fibroid embolization. This outpatient process uses no scalpels and no ripping apart of tissues. It basically deprives the fibroid of blood, shrinking it away. It also leaves the uterus intact – which is of crucial importance if the woman is still young enough and wants to have children.

There have been legal cases brought against physicians and power morcellator makers from the use of this procedure, and the cancer spreading complications arising afterwards. Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law Firm in Houston has been helping Texas residents for 30 years in evaluating their legal complaints, and ensuring they get all the aid they are entitled to.