Last April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that a medical power tool sometimes used to remove uterine fibroids could spread hidden cancers throughout patients’ bodies. However, a new study reveals that the likelihood of this actually happening is fairly low.
Fibroids are common tumors that develop in the wall of the uterus. Although the vast majority are benign and asymptomatic, some fibroids can cause serious issues such as abdominal pressure, pain during intercourse, and menstrual bleeding heavy enough to cause a woman to develop anemia.
In order to remove these problematic tumors, doctors would often use morcellators, small power tools that divide uterine tissues into smaller pieces so that they can be removed through a small incision in the abdomen, thusly removing the fibroids and putting an end to the problems they cause.
However, some women who undergo morcellation have undetected cancerous tissues. Pieces of these might be left after morcellation and spread throughout the abdomen, causing women to develop even more cancerous tissues.
When this was discovered, the FDA did all but ban the medical power tool, vehemently discouraging doctors from recommending morcellation procedures. Instead, the agency urged doctors to recommend one of the many other alternative uterine fibroid treatments.
At the time, the FDA estimated (based on an analysis of the available data) that about one in 350 women were at risk of having these hidden cancers.
A new study from Columbia University, though, estimates that the number of women with hidden cancers is closer to one in 528, and that the likelihood of having hidden cancer tissue increases with age. None of the women under the age of 40 who underwent morcellation developed uterine cancer, while the rate increased to nearly 1% among women in their 50s.
“Overall, the risk is low, and I think that’s reassuring,” said lead researcher Dr. Jason Wright, chief of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University.
Though the new study is certainly good news, it does not mean that morcellation is perfectly safe. While it may be a medically viable option depending on a woman’s age and the size and placement of her fibroids, older women would be wise to seek out other uterine fibroid treatment options.