As potentially harmful devices make headlines, patients have an alternative in IR

A medical device primarily used for hysterectomies is in the news again, this time for being investigated by the FBI—and the development may lead to more patients turning to interventional radiologists for an alternative procedure.

Laparoscopic power morcellators have been linked to spreading uterine cancer by the Food and Drug Administration on multiple occasions. And manufacturer Johnson & Johnson recalled its power morcellators in July 2014. Now, as the FBI looks into what Johnson & Johnson knew about the hazards associated with these devices and when they knew it, patients considering a hysterectomy may be able to get uterine fibroid embolization instead.

“Fibroid embolization is a very good alternative, in my opinion, for women who don’t want to have surgery,” Aaron Fischman, MD, interventional radiologist and assistant professor at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, told in a phone interview. “I think any time you have a surgical option that creates morbidity and complications, patients typically try to find an alternative that is less morbid and creates less complications. And that, I think, is where fibroid embolization fits in very well.”

Fibroid embolization is a minimally invasive procedure performed by an interventional radiologist. A small catheter is guided to the uterine artery, and small microspheres are injected to cut off portions of the blood supply that supply the fibroids. The procedure shrinks the fibroids so they can bleed less and cause fewer symptoms.

A 2009 study for the New England Journal of Medicine explored uterine fibroid embolization as an alternative to a hysterectomy.

“UFE, or uterine artery embolization, is a safe, effective and minimally invasive option for women to consider,” co-author Scott C. Goodwin, MD, an interventional radiologist, said at the time. “This is especially significant news for the more than 300,000 U.S. women who have hysterectomies performed annually to treat symptomatic uterine fibroids. Many of these women can confidently choose UFE, and this could significantly decrease the hysterectomy rate in the United States.”

Fischman said these continued news stories about morcellators should not affect the interventional radiologists who perform the embolization.

“What we do in interventional radiology is very different from what is done surgically,” he said.