Having a hysterectomy used to mean 4 to 6 weeks of recovery time. Then along came a new procedure called morcellation, which allows the uterus to be removed through an incision in the belly button. This medical advance was greeted as welcoming news for women who could now recover in a little as 3 to 5 days. While tens of thousands of women each year currently opt for morcellation, for some it can prove deadly.
That’s because the uterus and any growths on it are reduced to small pieces as they’re squeezed through the small opening in the belly button. If cancerous cells are present, they can spread.
Take the case of Amy Reed, a 40-year-old surgeon and mother of six from Boston. She is just one example of the small percentage of women who end up with advanced cancer and a much higher risk of dying as a result of morcellation. Her doctors had ruled out cancer before the procedure and said the growths on her uterus were benign. It was only discovered afterwards that she did indeed have a rare form of cancer and now faces an 85% chance of dying in the next 5 years. Reed is speaking out about the potential dangers of the procedure and hopes to save lives through a petition on Change.org.
It turns out that simply putting a bag around the organs to be removed before beginning the procedure could help prevent cancerous cells from spreading. But that makes morcellation more expensive and time consuming for surgeons and requires more training on their part. Cancer specialist Brain Van Tine, of Barnes and Jewish Hospital, says many women like Reed aren’t being informed that the surgery could actually make things worse for them. And Reed herself is continuing her campaign to make sure that women know: “If this could happen to two physicians at a world-class hospital, this is happening to thousands of women across the U.S. and across the world. They have no voice, they don’t know what’s going on… This is hurting a lot of people and they don’t even know it.”