Power morcellators have been around since 1993, when the first model was introduced to the market. It was considered a significant step forward in hysterectomy and myomectomy procedures at the time, as before surgeons had to operate these devices manually. But other than their automatic function, they do the same thing – mincing bulky tissues in the abdomen and remove them from the body. In the majority of patients, this means removing the uterus or growths attached to the uterus, both of which are common procedures in women. However, there is a known downside to the technology that can have serious health ramifications, and its dangers have prompted the FDA to recommend other forms of treatment instead.
WHAT DO POWER MORCELLATORS DO?
In general, laparoscopic procedures are considered superior to traditional, large incision surgeries, and these devices allow for laparoscopic hysterectomies and myomectomies. However, they employ simple technology to do their job, which is to mince up problematic tissues and deposit them outside the body. The device consists of a large tube with sharp jaws on the end, and a method of grasping the tissue and removing it. While in operation, the jaws spin and tear through tissue at the treatment site, while a vacuum or grasper grabs onto the tissue and removes it.
WHO IS USUALLY TREATED WITH POWER MORCELLATORS?
As the technology is largely used to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) or benign uterine growths known as fibroids (myomectomy), the vast majority of patients are older women. However, the device can also be used in other procedures, so men occasionally are treated with the device.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH CONCERNS WITH POWER MORCELLATORS?
For many years, doctors have known that during every procedure, there is a chance that the device is not completely effective and leaves tissue behind. These tissues are often deposited throughout the abdominal area, giving them the potential to seed disease throughout the body.
This is primarily a concern when a patient is harboring a form of cancer known as leiomyosarcoma. Leiomyosarcomas are difficult to detect prior to surgery and have a high mortality rate if the tumor is malignant. If a woman with an undetected leiomyosarcoma receives treatment with one of these devices, the cancerous tissue can be deposited throughout the abdomen, allowing it to spread extremely fast and become nearly impossible to treat. Even if the sarcoma is benign, spreading it makes it more difficult to treat should it result in symptoms. About 1 in 350 women are believed to have an undetected uterine sarcoma, and leiomyosarcomas are among the deadliest in that category.
The device has already been linked to several patient deaths resulting from explosively aggressive tumors, and the situation is now considered too dangerous by the FDA to continue. Many patients have already filed claims against device manufacturers and more are expected in the coming years. Victims are encouraged to consider their legal options if they have been treated with the device and later developed cancer, benign or otherwise.