Gynecologists Are Using a Tool That Could Spread Cancer

gynecological surgery tools

Even if you really love your gynecologist, seeing her for your regular annual exam isn't exactly something any of us look forward to. And undergoing an invasive procedure? Uh, yeah, stressful doesn't even begin to cut it. But at least we assumed that, in this day and age, the tools our docs are using during these procedures are 100 percent safe, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Back in April, the FDA sent out a warning about the laparoscopic power morcellator, a gynecological tool used in hysterectomies or to remove uterine fibroids (which are found in about 25 percent of women between the ages of 18-45).

They noted that approximately 1 in 350 women who are undergoing these procedures have an unsuspected type of uterine cancer called uterine sarcoma. And if the morcellator is used on these women, there's a risk that the procedure will spread the cancerous tissue within the abdomen and pelvis, significantly worsening the patient's likelihood of long-term survival.

Horrifying.

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You would think that would have sent a BIG red flag up, right? Well, it did -- sort of. Hospitals started to limit its use and some regional health insurers stopped covering it. But turns out, there are quite a few docs who aren't willing to give up on the morcellator so fast.

They'd prefer to just inform their patients of the FDA's claim and have them sign a consent form before going ahead and using it. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) argues that with more stringent patient selection, the device remains an important tool.

There's also argument around whether or not 1 in 350 is really the accurate stat on this form of uterine cancer. Hmm.

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Sounds like both parties have quite a bit to duke out before the morcellator is shelved for good, but it is more than a bit disconcerting to think that the very tool many doctors are relying on to improve a patient's health may actually be spreading cancer. That's just not acceptable.

The good news is that your doctor may not absolutely have to use the tool. There are a bevy of minimally or noninvasive options for uterine fibroid removal and hysterectomy. No matter what the exact numbers or risks are, sounds like there's at least a case here for discussing all of your options with your doctor.

How might this news change your approach if you were to need surgery down the road?


Image via iStock.com/miralex

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