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Cancer Diagnosis Following Hysterectomy or Myomectomy

On April 17, 2014, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to the medical community to discontinue the use of power morcellators in hysterectomies and myomectomies done laparoscopically, citing a growing body of evidence that these devices spread cancer. Following this warning, medical device manufacturer Johnson & Johnson voluntarily recalled the power morcellators made 

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What is a power morcellator?

A power morcellator consists of a hollow tube, through which a cutting device and grasper operate to cut small sections of tissue and withdraw them through the tube. This procedure, called morcellation, is designed to be minimally invasive, and has been a common method of surgery for the removal of uterine fibroids as well as for hysterectomies. Power morcellators have been in use in the medical field since 1993.

What makes morcellation dangerous?

Because a power morcellator cuts tissue into very small sections in order to remove them through a tube, there is a significant possibility that any cancerous cells in this tissue can escape and spread.

Over 600,000 hysterectomies are performed in the United States every year, and of these up to 90% are due to fibroids. While the majority of these fibroids are benign, there is a certain percentage that contains cancerous cells, which are undetected before surgery begins. Laparoscopic surgery is touted as being minimally invasive, with shorter recovery time, less bleeding, and a reduced chance of infection. For today's busy women, this is an attractive set of options. However, the risks are often downplayed in this commonplace medical procedure. The technique of power morcellation effectively pulverizes tissue for removal through the morcellator tube, making it possible for cancerous cells to migrate to other areas of the abdominal cavity. Women who have had cancerous cells spread via morcellation have an average life span of 24-36 months following the procedure. Only 15% of these women will live another five years.

Perhaps the most visible case of cancer spread by morcellation is that of Amy Reed, an anesthesiologist based in Boston who opted for a hysterectomy through laparoscopic surgery. A power morcellator was used during this surgery, and spread previously undetected cancer, which was later classified as Stage 4 leiosarcoma. Dr. Reed and her husband, Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, have mounted an aggressive campaign to stop the use of power morcellators in laparoscopic surgery.

A quick search online brings to light a number of stories similar to that of Dr. Reed's. Womenfrom all walks of life have been affected by this procedure, having undergone what was to be a routine surgery that resulted in an aggressive form of cancer.

Though the devices recalled by Johnson & Johnson account for 75% of the morcellators on the market, there are a number of devices made by other manufacturers still in use. The warning issued by the FDA does not compel the medical community to cease use of the devices still available, and many are still being used. Legal cases pursued by those wronged help to motivate removal of remaining devices from use by physicians and hospitals.

Have you or a family member been diagnosed with cancer following a laparoscopic hysterectomy or myomectomy? Regardless of your prognosis, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering. An attorney experienced in pharmaceutical liability cases can examine the facts of your situation and help you to determine if it is in your best interests to pursue a case.

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