Power-Morcellation Hysterectomies Declined and Most Performed With No Containment Bag

Diana Swift

August 09, 2022

The use of laparoscopic power morcellators for minimally invasive hysterectomy has significantly decreased, and while the use of containment bags increased after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 2014 safety warning about power morcellators, most procedures employing them are still performed without bags, according to a large database study in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Containment bags are thought to limit the dissemination of potentially pathologic tissue, including unsuspected cancerous cells.

Rates of uterine cancer in women having morcellation were similar before and after the 2014 FDA guidance, and containment bags were used in only a small proportion of women with uterine cancer, according to findings from a research group led by Jason D. Wright, MD, of the division of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University, New York.

"Despite warnings from professional societies and regulatory agencies, as well as intense public scrutiny after the FDA warnings, the majority of morcellated uterine cancers occurred with uncontained laparoscopic power morcellation," Wright and associates wrote, adding that the findings have important policy implications. First, efforts are needed to ensure morcellation is avoided in women with pathologic abnormalities. Second, despite regulatory approval, the safety and efficacy of containment bags remain uncertain, and the use and outcomes of these devices should be monitored closely.

The authors noted that laparoscopic power morcellation with a containment bag actually carries a small but significant increase in the risk of complications, compared with uncontained morcellation.

The Study

Drawing on the Premier Healthcare Database, the researchers looked at deidentified patients aged 18 years or older who underwent laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy from 2010 to 2018. The largest age group having the procedure consisted of women aged 40-49.

Patients were stratified based on use of laparoscopic power morcellators.

The cohort was further stratified as either pre–FDA guidance (2010 quarter 1 to 2014 quarter 1) or post–FDA guidance (2014 quarter 2 to 2018 quarter 2).

In the final cohort of 67,115 patients, laparoscopic power morcellator use decreased from 66.7% in 2013 quarter 4 to 13.3% by 2018 quarter 2. The likelihood of using this device decreased by 9.5% for each quarter elapsed in the post–FDA warning period (risk ratio, 0.91; 95% confidence interval, 0.90-0.91).

In other findings, containment bag use rose from 5.2% in 2013 quarter 4 to 15.2% by 2018 quarter 2. The likelihood of containment bag use rose by 3% for each quarter elapsed in the post–FDA warning period (RR, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.02-1.05).

Among women who underwent surgery with laparoscopic power morcellator use, uterine cancers or sarcomas were identified in 54 (0.17%) before the FDA guidance, compared with 7 (0.12%) after the guidance (P = .45).

Containment bags were used in 11.1% of women with uterine cancers or sarcomas before the FDA guidance, compared with 14.3% after the guidance (P = .12). The perioperative complication rate was 3.3% among women who had laparoscopic power morcellator use without a containment bag, compared with 4.5% (P = .001) in those with a containment bag (adjusted RR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.12-1.64).

A related editorial argued that the backlash against power morcellation was unwarranted and an example of "reactionary medicine."

Ben A. Abdu, MD, and Cameron Lowry, MD, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, noted that with the known advantages of laparoscopy over laparotomy – decreased blood loss, decreased pain, and fewer wound complications and infections – it is of paramount importance to continue to offer minimally invasive surgery whenever possible. After the FDA raised safety concerns, there was a rise in the rate of open abdominal hysterectomy, which was accompanied by an increase in surgical morbidity. "Perhaps for now we should avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water," they wrote.

The editorialists pointed out that any surgery may entail unintended complications. "It is also important to remember that there is a risk of dissemination of malignant tissue whether or not power morcellation is used, and it has even been observed in laparotomy," they stated, noting that bag rupture and tissue spillage can occur even when the containment bag remains intact.

The downward trend in the use of power morcellators observed by Wright's group is of serious concern, the commentators added, especially because the FDA communication was made in response to a rare occurrence and possibly resting on an overestimation of risk. "Based on their review of the medical literature at the time, the FDA cited prevalence estimates of 1 in 352 for any uterine sarcoma and 1 in 498 for leiomyosarcoma," they wrote. "Many authors have expressed concern that the FDA data review was overestimated." For example, they cite a meta-analysis using prospective data in which the prevalence of occult leiomyosarcoma was estimated at 1 in 8,300. Despite this extremely low prevalence, there has been an almost total nationwide hospital moratorium on the use of power morcellation, which will likely continue. Some manufacturers have ceased or limited production, distribution, and sales of these devices, they noted.

According to Michael L. Nimaroff, MD, however, chief of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., the general post–FDA-guidance backlash did not have much effect on expert practitioners in this surgical field. "Those of us who specialize in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery, which has many benefits for the patients, never pivoted," he told this news organization. "We continued to perform it but more conscientiously and with more concern for safety."

As for morcellator use, added Nimaroff, specialists were so accustomed to doing these surgeries before the containment systems were made available that they don't miss the power morcellator. "We actually retrieve tissue manually, and most of our morcellations, if they're not contained manually, are retrieved vaginally or through a slightly bigger incision. So patients still benefit from minimally invasive surgery, and in some cases these techniques actually shorten the operation."

This study received no external funding. Wright is editor in chief of Obstetrics & Gynecology. He reported royalties from UpToDate and has received research support from Merck. Coauthor Hou has served as a consultant for Foundation Medicine and Natera. Abdu and Lowry disclosed no competing interests, as did Nimaroff.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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