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Canadian Health Agency Warns of Risk of Cancer Spread Through Power Morcellators

May 8, 2014

Health Canada has joined other health agencies in warning of the danger of spreading undetected cancer with the use of power morcellators in laparoscopic fibroid surgery and hysterectomy.

Electric (powered, motorized) morcellators have contributed to the increase in the use of minimally invasive gynecologic procedures for the treatment of uterine fibroids, a recent Health Canada advisory reports. By allowing the removal of large surgical specimens through tubes inserted through small incisions, these devices permit a less invasive surgical approach, with the intended benefits of less blood loss, smaller scars, and a faster recovery. But Health Canada is concerned over reports of the inadvertent spread of unsuspected uterine malignancies associated with the use of these devices. Johnson & Johnson has suspended the sale of power morcellators until their role in fibroid treatment is reassessed by the medical community.

The Health Canada advisory warns that if cancerous tissue is sliced up before removal, malignant tissue could spread the cancer in the patient’s abdomen, reducing her long-term survival rate. Recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data indicate that approximately one in every 350 women with fibroids could have a uterine sarcoma, which cannot reliably be detected prior to removal, according to Dr. William Maisel, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Surgeons generally remove cancers or potentially cancerous tissue whole to avoid spreading the disease, The New York Times explains.

Health Canada advises patients with symptomatic fibroids to consult their doctor about surgical techniques that do not require morcellators. In some cases, the surgeon may recommend “closed morcellation,” where the slicing is done in a bag to reduce the inadvertent spread of uterine tissue.

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