February 20, 2014 — A process known as morcellation can unexpectedly spread cancer in a small segment of women during a laparoscopic hysterectomy, USA Today reports.
After being diagnosed with cancer following her hysterectomy, Massachusetts physician Amy Reed launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and call for an end to morcellation, which involves pulverizing the uterus to fit through an incision in the woman's abdomen during a hysterectomy. The destruction of the tissue can also spread any cancerous cells in the uterus throughout the abdomen.
According to USA Today, this type of hysterectomy cuts recovery time to three to five days, compared with four to six weeks with other hysterectomy procedures. The risk of potentially spreading cancer can be addressed by placing a bag around the organs and chopping device, but the process requires more time and surgical training.
Reed was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer after undergoing a hysterectomy with morcellation to treat benign uterine fibroids. Even though pre-operative tests showed she did not have cancer, she was later found to have a rare type of the disease called uterine leiomyosarcoma, which was undetectable from the tests but would have been treatable if the morcellation had not spread the cancer cells.
Reed, a mother of six who helped treat victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and her husband, surgeon Hooman Noorchashm, have collected more than 3,600 signatures on a Change.org petition asking for physicians to stop using morcellation. The campaign has garnered attention in the mainstream media and the medical literature, including a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Approximately 11% of the nearly 500,000 hysterectomies performed in the U.S. each year include morcellation, according to USA Today.
It previously was thought that morcellation worsens cancer in one in every 10,000 patients, but a researcher and friend of Reed has found that the figure could be as high as one in 400 patients (Weintraub, USA Today, 2/18).