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FDA Warns Against Using Laparoscopic Power Morcellators to Treat Uterine Fibroids

Agency recommends adding important safety information to product labels

The FDA has taken steps to help reduce the risk of spreading unsuspected cancer in women being treated for uterine fibroids. In an updated safety communication, originally issued in April 2014, the FDA warns against using laparoscopic power morcellators in the removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) or fibroids (myomectomy) in most women.

The agency also recommends that manufacturers of laparoscopic power morcellators include in their product labeling specific safety statements in the form of a boxed warning and two contraindications.

“The FDA’s primary concern is the safety and well-being of patients, and taking these steps will help the agency’s safety recommendations to be implemented as quickly as possible,” said William Maisel, MD, MPH, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Updating the device label with a boxed warning and contraindications will provide clinicians and patients with critical information about the risk of spreading cancerous tissue when these procedures are performed.”

The boxed warning informs health care providers and patients that:

  • Uterine tissue may contain unsuspected cancer. The use of laparoscopic power morcellators during fibroid surgery may spread cancer and decrease the long-term survival of patients. This information should be shared with patients when considering surgery with the use of these devices.

The two contraindications advise the following:

  • Laparoscopic power morcellators are contraindicated for the removal of uterine tissue containing suspected fibroids in patients who are peri- or post-menopausal, or are candidates for en bloc tissue removal through the vagina or mini-laparotomy incision. (These groups of women represent the majority of women with fibroids who undergo hysterectomy and myomectomy.)
  • Laparoscopic power morcellators are contraindicated in gynecologic surgery in which the tissue to be morcellated is known or suspected to be cancerous.

The FDA’s guidance applies to currently marketed and new laparoscopic power morcellators for general and specific gynecologic indications.

Based on current data, the FDA estimated that approximately 1 in 350 women who are undergoing hysterectomy or myomectomy for fibroids is found to have an unsuspected uterine sarcoma. If laparoscopic power morcellation is performed in these women, there is a risk that the procedure will spread the cancerous tissue within the abdomen and pelvis, significantly worsening the patient’s likelihood of long-term survival.

The two contraindications help to clarify the narrow population of patients in which laparoscopic power morcellation may be an appropriate therapeutic option. For example, some younger women who are interested in maintaining their ability to have children or wish to keep their uterus intact after being informed of the risks may be candidates for this procedure.

Other surgical treatment options are available for women with symptomatic uterine fibroids, such as traditional surgical hysterectomy (performed either vaginally or abdominally) and myomectomy; laparoscopic hysterectomy and myomectomy without morcellation; and laparotomy using a smaller incision (mini-laparotomy).

Source: FDA; November 24, 2014.

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