A new study released Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association cautions doctors about using power morcellation to remove the uterus, a procedure close to 50,000 women undergo each year.
Considered to be minimally invasive, power morcellation uses a device to cut uterine tissue into smaller pieces that are then removed via tiny incisions. However, researchers discovered that it's more common than previously thought for a woman undergoing the procedure to have undetected cancer; if the device cuts tumors they might spread cancer cells through the abdomen.
Researchers looked at a database that included 15 percent of hospitalizations in the U.S. from 2006 to 2012. They found 232,882 cases of minimally invasive hysterectomies, including 36,470 women who had power morcellation. Of those patients, 99 were subsequently found to have uterine cancer, meaning one in 368 women who had hysterectomies had cancerous tumors, Dr. Jason D. Wright, the lead author and chief of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, told The New York Times. Had doctors known about the cancer, they would not have performed the power morcellation.
Researchers also reviewed the cases of a doctor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and found that cancer spread much faster after morcellation was used to remove a uterus than major abdominal surgery. Wright isn't calling for a stop to the procedure, but is advocating for education. "I don't know that necessarily morcellation should be banned," he said. "But this data is important to allow people to make decisions."