In 2012, Brenda Leuzzi had surgery to remove fibroids, which are benign (non-cancerous) growths on the uterus. Unfortunately, the benign fibroid was actually undiagnosed uterine cancer and the morcellator spread cancerous tissue throughout her abdomen. After a hard fight, 44 year-old Leuzzi died last week.
Her hysterectomy was performed with a surgical robot and an electrical tool known as a laparoscopic power morcellator, which uses spinning blades to grind up tissues before they are removed through small incisions in the abdomen.
She was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a highly-aggressive form of sarcoma that has a low survival rate once it metastasizes (spreads beyond the uterus). Many cases of leiomyosarcoma remain dormant inside the uterus for years and can be surgically removed. However, if a power morcellator spreads cancerous tissue, a patient’s chances of long-term survival greatly diminish.
There is no reliable way to know whether a fibroid is actually cancer until after tissue is removed and examined under a microscopy by a pathologist. The FDA estimates that 1 in 350 women who has fibroid surgery actually has undiagnosed cancer, and 1 in 500 has leiomyosarcoma. In April 2014, the FDA recommended against using morcellators in gynecological surgery.
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