In September 2012 a woman residing in Fairport, New York had a surgical procedure referred to as a robot assisted hysterectomy, at the Strong Memorial Hospital of the University of Rochester Medical Center. One of the instruments used by doctors during her procedure was a power morcellator. Prior to her surgery, there was no indication that she had any form of metastatic cancer. Following the procedure, the patient was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of uterine cancer.
On May 1st, 2014, the patient and her husband filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court Western District of New York under court docket 6:14-cv-06218, against the manufacturer of the morcellator, Ethicon.
Ethicon is a part of the Johnson & Johnson corporation. The lawsuit states that Ethicon was aware that there was a risk of the morcellator causing dissemination of uterine leiomyosarcoma to other areas of the body, prior to the plaintiffs surgery. As a result, the cancer metastasized at a faster pace despite the plaintiff undergoing aggressive chemotherapy. After battling the cancer for two years the plaintiff passed away on October 24th, 2014.
Morcellators and the Spread of Uterine Cancer
Morcellators are surgical instruments that are commonly used in laparoscopic surgeries, including gallbladder removal, splenectomy, hysterectomies, and myomectomies. The morcellator is used to cut the tissue into smaller sections for easy removal from the body cavity. You can find more information on the risks associated with morcellators here.
Following the first morcellator cancer lawsuit, filed in Pennsylvania on March 14th, 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a safety communication to the public on April 17th, 2014, regarding the use of morcellators.
This safety communication states that “When used for hysterectomy or myomectomy in women with uterine fibroids, laparoscopic morcellation poses a risk of spreading unsuspected cancerous tissue, notably uterine sarcomas, beyond the uterus.”
The FDA also estimated that 1 in 350 women with fibroids would have undetected uterine cancer. Additionally the FDA issued a “black box warning” on morcellators. This warning is issued when the FDA feels there is reasonable evidence of an association of a serious hazard with a product.
Recently one of the first morcellator lawsuits settled for an undisclosed amount.