New Cancer Risk Associated with Uterine Fibroid Removal Procedure

Mature woman with her female doctor.By Emily Murray

Getting regular pap smears and OB/GYN exams are  part of a normal healthcare routine for women but when results come back abnormal, anxiety levels spike. Nearly 20% to 40% of all women over the age of 35 will develop uterine fibroids, noncancerous tumors in the smooth muscle layer of the uterus, at some point in their lifetime. While the majority of these cases do not result in cancer, there are many other uncomfortable side effects that women with fibroids suffer from. The most common include pain and pressure in the pelvic area, trouble emptying the bladder, heavy menstrual bleeding (and prolonged periods), constipation and leg or back pain.

For some women, fibroids may be the size of a small seed or they can be a large mass in the uterus. Depending on size, location, a woman’s age (and a variety of other factors) doctor’s will choose from several treatment options. One of these requires a minimally invasive procedure known as morcellation.

Morcellation essentially grinds up the fibroids with power tools in order to allow small pieces to be removed. In some cases, this is also done for a hysterectomy (or removal of the uterus). Morcellation has been a standard procedure for many years now and has been preferred by surgeons since the downtime women experience is much shorter than that required of other procedures and additionally scars are smaller.

Unfortunately, doctors have begun questioning the procedure due to fears that the grinding process may actually spread cancer in some women. In fact, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is planning to limit the procedure. They also believe that women need to be informed about the potential of this side effect (even if it is believed to be small).

There are other options for hysterectomy and tumor removal and perhaps if women are informed of the risks of morcellation ahead of time, they will be able to go with the choice that seems to be the best move for them.

While most of these fibrous tumors are benign, in the cases of undiscovered malignancy, the grinding process could inadvertently spread the cancerous cells throughout the woman’s body making the cancer more difficult to treat and more deadly as a result.

The New England Journal recently ran an article with the results of 10 studies of more than 30,000 women and discovered that of those who opted for morcellation, 1 in 400 were found to have cancer in the removed tissue. It stands to reason that these women were not warned of the potential for spreading cancer and those who are both for and against banning the procedure seem to agree that more care must be taken to have the risk disclosed ahead of time.

For more information on uterine fibroid treatment,  check out this resource.