The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday took the rare step of urging doctors to stop performing a surgical procedure used on tens of thousands of women each year to remove uterine growths, saying the practice risks spreading hidden cancers within a woman’s body.
The procedure, known as power morcellation, has long been used in laparoscopic operations to remove fibroid tumors from the uterus, or to remove the uterus itself. It involves inserting an electric device into the abdomen and slicing tissue in order to remove it through a small incision. The surgery is far less invasive than traditional abdominal operations.
But the FDA on Thursday agreed with a growing chorus of researchers and clinicians who oppose the procedure, saying that it can recklessly spread undetected cancers throughout the body and make the disease more lethal in the process. The agency is not seeking to ban the practice or the roughly two dozen FDA-approved devices used to perform it, but hospitals and gynecologists are likely to abandon the procedure because of potential liabilities.
The FDA said its analysis determined that an estimated 1 in 350 women who undergo morcellation have an unsuspected form of uterine cancer called uterine sarcoma.
Of the more than 500,000 hysterectomies performed in the United States each year, about 11 percent, or more than 50,000, involve morcellation, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Some doctors advocate performing a morcellation only when using an “isolation bag” in an effort to minimize the spread of tissues, but that method is not foolproof, as the bags can break.
“When you consider what the benefit is, which is a shorter hospital stay and less pain, then consider what the risk is — this could kill you — most women would not choose that risk if they really understood what is at stake,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund.
Even before Thursday’s announcement by the FDA, the push to limit uterine morcellations had gained traction.
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