Up to 80 percent of women will develop a uterine fibroid, or non-cancerous tumor in their uterus, before age 50. These fibroids are usually not dangerous, but they can impact fertility as well as cause heavy bleeding and pain. Fortunately, for a large number of women with fibroids, there are no symptoms at all.
In the more severe cases, your gynecologist may recommend removing these fibroids to give you a better quality of life. The procedure to remove the largest and most severe fibroids is called a myomectomy.
How Removing Uterine Fibroids Can Cause Cancer
Until very recently, the most common way to do this fibroid removal was with a power morcellator, a small tool that can break up the fibroids into smaller pieces for easy removal. In a laparoscopic surgery, where only tiny incisions are required, healing is faster and patients can often go home the same day, the power morcellator served as an excellent way to remove the fibroids with minimal intrusiveness.
The problem? Researchers found that in the typical age group of women getting fibroids removed, there could be undiagnosed cancer cells inside the fibroids or the uterus. While cancerous fibroids are uncommon, they may happen in between 1 in 400 to 1 in 1,000 cases.
These may not have been a problem if left alone or removed whole, but the power morcellator disturbs those cells as part of the fibroid removal. While breaking up the fibroid tissue, cancer cells can be spread to other parts of the body, where they may be more likely to develop into tumors. Until the fibroids are removed and tested, there's no way to know if cancer cells are present.
How This Happened
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires approval for medical devices like the power morcellator, there is no process for approving medical techniques or surgeries. The fibroid removal surgery using a morcellator is safe most of the time, so doctors who used the technique weren't able to trace its use to increased odds of cancer in women patients.
In addition to myomectomies, the power morcellator was also used for hysterectomies, or removal of the uterus. This actually accounts for most of the cases of cancer that spread, according to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's Oncology journal. In fact, only 7.7 percent of fibroid removal was done with this instrument between 2006 and 2012.
Once studies were completed showing a possible link between the use of a power morcellator and increased cancer risks, the FDA recommended that it no longer be used for any such surgeries. It was not banned, however, because the FDA wanted doctors to be able to use it if there was a medical need greater than the risk of developing cancer.
What You Can Do
It's important to talk to your gynecologist (like those at Ogeechee OB-GYN) to understand all options for fibroid treatment. Surgery is a quick way to remove the fibroids, but you will want to make sure that the fibroid is removed whole or with a method that doesn't break them up. If you had a uterine fibroid surgery before fall 2014, talk to your gynecologist about any additional risk of cancer you may have