ORLANDO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – The Food and Drug Administration’s 2014 warning that laparoscopic power morcellation during hysterectomy or myomectomy could spread unsuspected cancerous tissue had a chilling effect across the specialty, but what about the risks associated with morcellation during vaginal hysterectomy?

“There is only one case of morcellation during vaginal hysterectomy with a leiomyosarcoma recorded in the literature,” Megan N. Wasson, DO, a fellow in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix said at the meeting sponsored by AAGL. “It is really unclear if vaginal and electromechanical morcellation carry the same inherent risk.”

To find out more, Dr. Wasson and her colleagues identified 2,296 patients who underwent total vaginal hysterectomy at one of three academic medical centers. A total of 611 of these women had uterine removal with uncontained morcellation via cold-knife wedge resection. The investigators assessed this group for incidence of occult malignancy, perioperative outcomes, and long-term survival in a retrospective cohort study.

Of the 611 women who underwent morcellation during the study, five patients had an occult malignancy, for a rate less than one percent, 0.82%. Three patients had a stage IA, grade I endometrial adenocarcinoma, and two patients had a low-grade stromal sarcoma. No patients had a leiomyosarcoma.

This group of five patients had a mean age of 49 years, a mean BMI of 32 kg/m2 and a median parity of two. Abnormal uterine bleeding was the indication for surgery for all five patients with a malignancy. The mean uterine weight was elevated at 231 g. One patient with endometrial adenocarcinoma later underwent pelvic lymphadenectomy and vaginal brachytherapy.

“So far, thankfully, all of these patients show no evidence of disease recurrence,” Dr. Wasson said. All five patients are alive, with a mean disease-free survival of 43 months among those with endometrial adenocarcinoma and 37 months for the low-grade stroma sarcoma patients.

“Overall, the incidence of occult uterine carcinoma at the time of vaginal hysterectomy is less than 1%,” Dr. Wasson said. “Thankfully, it does not appear to have a negative effect on patient outcomes when it occurs.”

More research is needed, however. “The risk is very limited in terms of what we know,” she said. “We investigated cancer in this study, but there is also a risk of dissemination of benign conditions.”

All patients underwent a preoperative evaluation that included sampling of the lining of the uterus and imaging. “Out of the five patients with carcinomas, two of the adenocarcinomas had completely benign preoperative sampling and one had hyperplasia, which unfortunately did develop into occult disease,” Dr. Wasson said. “We wouldn’t recommend morcellating any patient with hyperplasia. In the two patients with low-grade stromal sarcoma, neither had any hyperplasia on preoperative sampling.”

Following the 2014 FDA Safety Communication on power morcellation, the AAGL released its own guidance on morcellation during uterine tissue extraction. The AAGL recommended that clinicians avoid morcellation for any patient who had a premalignant or malignant condition or who was at risk for malignancy, and use caution when considering morcellation. “This was for all types of morcellation, including electromechanical and vaginal morcellation,” Dr. Wasson said.

“This was in response to studies and awareness of increased risk of disease with morcellation – specifically leiomyosarcomas – for dissemination of disease in the abdomen and pelvis, but also for an increased risk of recurrence,” she said. “This means, in turn, that patients can have decreased overall survival and disease-free survival, so this is very important when we are talking to our patients.”

Dr. Wasson reported having no relevant financial disclosures.


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