FDA Warns Fibroid Procedure May Cause Cancer

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A male doctor pointing to a chart as he talks to his female patient

In the United States, black women are two to three times more likely to have fibroids than white women.

These fibroids, which are noncancerous growths that develop on the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus, also occur more often, develop sooner, grow larger, and are more likely to cause severe pain in black women.

A variety of different procedures, particularly surgery, are used to help remove fibroids. But now, the FDA is warning against one of these treatments.

The FDA says that a procedure known as “laparoscopic power morcellation,” can inadvertently spread cancerous tissue beyond a woman’s uterus and into other parts of her body.

Basically, this minimally invasive procedure uses a power tool to chop up the tissue of the fibroids. These tissues are then removed through tiny incisions. The procedure can also be used to perform hysterectomies, where the entire uterus is removed. About 60,000 of these procedures are performed every year, estimated Dr. William Maisel, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Regarding the source of the cancer, the FDA estimates that about one in 350 women undergoing a hysterectomy or fibroid removal has an unsuspected type of cancer called uterine sarcoma.

The FDA has yet to ban the device. Instead, it is urging physicians and patients to consider whether or not this is the best procedure for them.

“Women should ask their health care provider if power morcellation will be used during the procedure, and explain why it’s the best option,” Maisel said at a news conference.

Maisel also explained that women who’ve already undergone power morcellation don’t need to get a cancer screening, since some of the tissue removed during the procedure would have been sent for pathologic analysis. If cancer had been detected, they would have been informed.

Maisel also says that the medical community has been aware of these cancer risks since the device came onto the market.

Why Are Fibroid Risks Higher For Black Women?

No one knows what exactly causes fibroids, and no one knows why fibroids are more common and more severe in black women. However, according to BabyCenter.com, research has indicated a few possible risk factors that focus on black women, such as:

Family history. If your grandmother, mother, or sister have had fibroids, then you may be more likely to have them as well.

Age. Fibroids occur earlier in African Americans than in other women. It’s not unusual for black women to get fibroids in their 20s. However, fibroids tend to shrink after menopause.

Hormone levels. Fibroid growth seems to depend on estrogen or progesterone. Studies show that fibroids are more likely to get smaller when estrogen levels go down, such as after menopause.

Body weight. Some studies suggest that obesity may play a role in fibroid development. Considering that black women are more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white women, this is an important issue.

Childbirth. Studies have found that women who have delivered at least one baby are less likely to have fibroids.

Lifestyle. Some studies have indicated that exercise and a healthy diet may lower fibroid risks, while studies have consistently showed that consumption of alcohol raises the risk.

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