Power morcellators are used in uterine surgery to break uterine tissue into smaller pieces for removal via an incision. The problem is in women who undergo hysterectomy or myomectomy for uterine fibroids. Although usually fibroids are exactly as diagnosed - non-cancerous - in a small but significant number of women the fibroids are actually uterine sarcoma. In those cases, the use of power morcellation to break up uterine tissue can actually spread cancerous tissue throughout the woman’s abdomen, greatly decreasing her chances of survival.
Unfortunately, there is no way to determine prior to surgery whether the patient has a uterine fibroid or a sarcoma. There are, however, ways to remove the tissue that do not increase the risk of spreading cancer.
According to USA Today (6/9/16), Ethicon (owned by Johnson & Johnson and maker of power morcellators) withdrew its device in July 2014 and has settled numerous lawsuits linked to the devices (the settlements are not an admission of liability). Of concern to regulators is the underreporting of problems with medical devices.
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An article by The Wall Street Journal (6/8/16) notes that the FDA first received reports of the spreading of cancerous tissue in 2013, even though some studies going back to the 1990s suggested such a risk existed. The new bill is hoped to prevent similar reporting problems linked to medical devices.