FDA Warns Fibroid Procedure May Cause Cancer

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A male doctor pointing to a chart as he talks to his female patient

In the United States, black women are two to three times more likely to have fibroids than white women.

These fibroids, which are noncancerous growths that develop on the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus, also occur more often, develop sooner, grow larger, and are more likely to cause severe pain in black women.

A variety of different procedures, particularly surgery, are used to help remove fibroids. But now, the FDA is warning against one of these treatments.

The FDA says that a procedure known as “laparoscopic power morcellation,” can inadvertently spread cancerous tissue beyond a woman’s uterus and into other parts of her body.

Basically, this minimally invasive procedure uses a power tool to chop up the tissue of the fibroids. These tissues are then removed through tiny incisions. The procedure can also be used to perform hysterectomies, where the entire uterus is removed. About 60,000 of these procedures are performed every year, estimated Dr. William Maisel, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Regarding the source of the cancer, the FDA estimates that about one in 350 women undergoing a hysterectomy or fibroid removal has an unsuspected type of cancer called uterine sarcoma.

The FDA has yet to ban the device. Instead, it is urging physicians and patients to consider whether or not this is the best procedure for them.

“Women should ask their health care provider if power morcellation will be used during the procedure, and explain why it’s the best option,” Maisel said at a news conference.

Maisel also explained that women who’ve already undergone power morcellation don’t need to get a cancer screening, since some of the tissue removed during the procedure would have been sent for pathologic analysis. If cancer had been detected, they would have been informed.

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