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New American research has suggested that a current medical procedure involving the use of growth-removal devices are unsafe to use on patients and can lead to uterine cancer and other cancers. Medical healthcare company Johnson and Johnson is halting sales of devices used to remove growths in the uterus following a government warning that the electronic surgical tools can inadvertently spread cancer to other parts of the body.
The announcement came only one week after the American FDA (Food and Drug Administration) discouraged doctors from using the devices, known as laparoscopic power morcellators. Surgeons currently use the devices to treat painful fibroids, either by removing the growths themselves or alternatively the entire uterus. Power morcellators shred internal tissue so that it can be removed through a tiny incision in the abdomen, instead of using more invasive surgical procedures.
The FDA said there is a significant risk that the devices can grind up undetected uterine tumours, spreading the cancer to the pelvis, abdomen and other regions.
Doctors have long been warned and have recognised the risk of accidentally spreading cancer from undetected tumours, but FDA officials said last Thursday that the problem now appears far more common than previously thought. An FDA analysis estimated that 1 in every 350 women who undergo fibroid procedures this year have a form of cancer called uterine sarcoma.
Fibroids are originally non-cancerous growths in the uterus which can cause severe pain, heavy bleeding and bladder or bowel dysfunction. It’s unclear what causes the tumour-like growths, but they account for a significant number of hysterectomies in the US each year.
“There is a risk that the procedure will spread the cancerous tissue within the abdomen and pelvis, significantly reducing the patient’s likelihood of long-term survival,” said Dr. William Maisel, the FDA’s director for medical devices. He added that there is no reliable way to spot cancerous uterine tumours before removing them, but that scientists are working on a solution to this problem.