November 5, 2014 — A growing number of women who had a hysterectomy or fibroid surgery with the Da Vinci Surgical Robot have developed uterine cancer, including one woman who recently died.
The Da Vinci robot is almost always used with a surgical tool known as a power morcellator, which resembles a hand-held electric blender. The procedure is marketed to women as safer, less painful, with a faster recovery and less chance of complications.
The marketing worked. In 2007, just 0.5% of all hysterectomies were performed with a robot. By 2010, that number had skyrocketed to 9.5%. An estimated 600,000 women in the United States have a hysterectomy every year, and morcellators are used in about 55,000-75,000 procedures annually.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that robotic hysterectomies are no better than traditional “keyhole” surgery for the patient, but cost $2,100 more.
When a power morcellator is used, there is a chance it could spread undiagnosed uterine cancer. In April 2014, the FDA estimated that 1 in 350 women who has fibroid surgery actually has undiagnosed uterine sarcoma. When the morcellator grinds up tissues, it can leave behind “seeds” of cancer that spread tumors throughout her abdomen and pelvis.
A Change.org petition filed by Dr. Hooman Noorchasm is calling on the FDA to ban morcellators in gynecological surgery. He makes special note of the lack of warnings on the Da Vinci robot:
“Without morcellation using equipment manufactured by Intuitive Surgical, robotic hysterectomies would, likely, not be possible using the DaVinci Robot. It is noteworthy that the DaVinci robot does not appear to have a readily available warning label advising against its use to morcellate tumors with malignant potential inside the body.”