Power morcellators were designed to make it safer and easier for a woman to have a hysterectomy, potentially saving women’s lives. Unfortunately, in many cases the opposite has happened. Used in countless procedures since 1993, the power morcellator is now known to spread cancer under some circumstances. If the morcellator disturbs uterine cancer cells, it can spread them across healthy tissue inside a woman’s body, dramatically decreasing her chance of survival.
If you’ve developed cancer after a procedure with a power morcellator, you should speak to a lawyer immediately. John Foy & Associates is among the most experienced medical injury law firms in the country. Call us at 404-400-4000 and get a free consultation today.
What is a power morcellator?
A morcellator is a device used during laparoscopic surgery to help remove an internal organ. Laparoscopic surgery is done using a “laparascope,” a tiny camera that can be inserted through a small incision in the body so doctors can see inside. This allows doctors to work through only a tiny opening, rather than doing traditional “open” surgery. It’s a much less invasive form of surgery.
However, because of the small incision, it’s difficult to remove large amounts of tissue—such as removing the uterus in a hysterectomy. This is where a morcellator comes in. The morcellator is small enough to fit through the incision, and has a special head that “morsellates” the uterus or other organ. Morsellation is a process of carefully cutting the organ into smaller pieces, which can then be extracted without open surgery.
But morsellation is a messy process. It is sometimes referred to as “mincing” the organ, and the head of the morcellator involves sharp “cutting jaws” that take away tissue one piece at a time. This process can spread small fragments of the tissue.
What makes power morcellators dangerous?
Power morcellators are commonly used during gynecological surgery to remove uterine fibroids. Fibroids are thick tissue that can grow inside the uterus, especially during and after pregnancy. In many cases they’re harmless, but they can cause pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, and potentially lead to miscarriage or loss of fertility. For this reason, many women choose to have them removed. Fibroids may also be present in a uterus that is being completely removed (hysterectomy).
Unfortunately, it’s also difficult for doctors to “see” into fibroids using traditional scans. In some cases, a cancerous growth could be hiding within the fibroids, and doctors won’t know until after the growth is removed.
This is where the problem comes in. When a morcellator is used to remove fibroids, it shreds them and spreads bits of the tissue throughout the uterus or beyond. If this tissue is cancerous, it can spread to a much wider area.
When this happens, the morcellator has essentially taken a small, easily operable cancer and turned it into a much more advanced, deadly cancer. This is known as “upstaging” the cancer, or raising it from a less serious stage to a more serious stage. When a morcellator upstages cancer, it can cost the woman her life.
How many women are at risk?
Any woman who has a gynecological procedure with a power morcellator may be at risk; there is no way to know before the procedure.
The type of cancer typically involved is uterine sarcoma, a form of leiomyosarcoma, which affects the smooth muscles that allow the uterus to contract. This cancer hs a very high mortality rate, especially if it’s not treated until an advanced stage. In its official warning against power morcellators, the FDA estimated that about 1 in 350 women has an unexpected sarcoma when they go in for fibroid removal or hysterectomy.
When a morcellator is used on those women, there is a very high risk—about a 64% chance—that the morcellator will “disseminate” the cancer or spread cancerous cells across the area. Taken together, that means about 1 in 540 women who face a morcellator will later find out it spread cancer in their body.
While there is no exact number on how many women have received this kind of treatment, approximately 600,000 hysterectomies are performed in the US each year. Power morcellators have been in use since 1993.
What action has been taken against power morcellators?
The FDA has issued a warning about the devices. This warning is meant to make doctors aware of the risks posed by morcellators, so that they will not use them in fibroid removal or most hysterectomies. Several doctors are also working to spread the message, including one who had her own cancer upstaged by a morcellator. But the FDA has not issued a recall because morcellators still have some valid medical uses.
Nonetheless, one of the main companies that manufactures morcellators, Ethicon, has recalled its product. The recall is voluntary, but happened amidst public controversy, and the FBI is investigating claims that Ethicon knew the dangers of morcellators well before they became public. Ethicon is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
While the FDA warning and the Ethicon recall will protect future patients, sadly they do nothing for the many women who have already seen their cancer upstaged, or even lost their lives.
Who is responsible for the harm done by power morcellators?
The companies who manufacture morcellators are responsible, and they’re liable for the lives that have been lost or ruined. There are several different companies that make morcellators, but all morcellators have the same risks. Each company had a duty to provide safe, effective medical devices, and to warn doctors and patients of the risks of using them. The companies failed to do that.
If you, or someone you love, was harmed due to a power morcellator procedure, you have rights. Your life may be at risk or someone you love may have lost their life. It’s possible that this loss could have been prevented, and the cancer safely diagnosed and treated, if doctors had used a different procedure.
The harm done can never be reversed, but you may be entitled to a financial recovery. Your recovery can help pay for the medical bills, cancer treatment, lost work time, and the anguish you went through. Call the attorneys of John Foy & Associates. We offer a FREE consultation and we charge nothing unless we get you a financial recovery. Call 404-400-4000 and get your free consultation today.