Popular Procedure to Remove Fibroids May Actually Cause Cancer to Spread

Popular Procedure to Remove Fibroids may Actually Cause Cancer to Spread

A new report suggests that a procedure used to remove fibroids may actually cause the cancer to spread.  The procedure, called morcellation, is minimally invasive and a popular method for removing uterine fibroids.  Experts now believe that it may actually increase the risk of spreading the cancer.

In order to remove the fibroids, a power tool called a morecellator is used to grind them up.  This allows the pieces to be extracted through smaller incisions. The recovery time is much faster and leaves fewer scars, making it a more popular option among women who deal with uterine fibroids.

However, in a new report that was submitted by the New England Journal of Medicine, a moratorium on the procedure has been called for.  The research shows that many more women than previously thought have cancer that was undetected and that the grinding up of the fibroids can actually cause the cancerous material to spread throughout the abdomen.

An online petition has been started by Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Boston’s Brigham Women’s Hospital.  Dr. Noorchashm has written dozens of letters to various medical journals and media outlets claiming that the morcellation is endangering the lives of women and may lead to a public health crisis.  He has demanded that Brigham stop using the procedure and is calling on other hospitals nationwide to follow his lead.

Dr. Noorchashm’s interest in halting the procedure, however, is much more personal.  His own wife, physician Dr. Amy Reed, underwent a hysterectomy back in October at Brigham.  In what was to be a routine procedure, to remove what she had been told were most likely benign fibroids, her surgeon used a morcellator to cut the fibroids into smaller pieces so that they could removed through small incisions.  During Dr. Reed’s follow-up visit it was discovered that tissue that had been removed during surgery and biopsied had contained uterine leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that is rather aggressive.  Further tests revealed that the cancerous tissue actually spread itself around during the routine surgery.  Dr. Reed is now battling stage 4 cancer.

Approximately 20 to 40 percent of women who are over the age of 35 are at risk of developing uterine fibroids.  They are the most common reason for women to undergo a hysterectomy.  In many cases the fibroids are benign.  However, a large number of experts are suggesting that uterine sarcomas are more common than they previously believed and women aren’t being properly informed of the risks of morcellation.

The Mayo Clinic’s chairwoman of obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Bobbie Gostout, has said that women should be encouraged to choose the option of a vaginal hysterectomy, where the uterus is taken out intact.  Dr. Gostout claims that morcellation “is a questionable practice,” claiming that the devices that are used are not so good at capturing the tissue and protecting the surrounding organs from the tool’s rotating blades.

The procedure to remove fibroids and that actually may cause cancer to spread is still widely used across the United States.  Dr. Noorchashm’s report is currently under peer review, pending further studies.

By Mary Kay Love

Boston Globe
Boston Magazine

2 Responses to "Popular Procedure to Remove Fibroids May Actually Cause Cancer to Spread"

  1. Mary Kay   December 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I am surprised that this isn’t getting as much attention as it deserves.

  2. SuzieTampa   December 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Hi, I’m a longtime survivor of leiomyosarcoma and patient advocate. We’ve known this for a long time, and we’re grateful that this physician-couple were finally able to get the media to take notice. A cancer diagnosis comes as a surprise to almost every woman with uterine sarcoma. I’ve been a peer-to-peer counselor for other women since 2005 and, off-hand, I can only think of one woman who got the diagnosis before surgery. The largest sarcoma conference in the world — with 815 people registered — occurred in NYC last month and not one single reporter showed up. One of the first panels dealt with the issue of morcellation.

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