Clinical Review

Morcellation use in gynecologic surgery: Current clinical recommendations and cautions

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Here, evolving thought on preoperative evaluation and counseling, updated ACOG guidelines, and changes implemented at the authors’ institution



Morcellation of gynecologic surgical specimens became controversial after concerns arose about the potential for inadvertent spread of malignant cells throughout the abdomen and pelvis during tissue morcellation of suspected benign disease. In 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warningagainst the use of laparoscopic power morcellation specifically for myomectomy or hysterectomy in the treatment of leiomyomas (fibroids) because of the risk of spreading undiagnosed malignancy throughout the abdomen and pelvis.1 This warning was issued after a high-profile case occurred in Boston in which an occult uterine sarcoma was morcellated during a supracervical robot-assisted hysterectomy for suspected benign fibroids.

Recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published a committee opinion with updated recommendations for practice detailing the risks associated with morcellation and suggestions for patient counseling regarding morcellation.2

In this review, we summarize the techniques and risks of morcellation, the epidemiology of undiagnosed uterine malignancies, practice changes noted at our institution, and clinical recommendations moving forward. A case scenario illustrates keys steps in preoperative evaluation and counseling.

Morcellation uses—and risks

Morcellation is the surgical process of dividing a large tissue specimen into smaller pieces to facilitate their removal through the small incisions made in minimally invasive surgery. Morcellation may be performed with a power instrument or manually.

In power morcellation, an electromechanical instrument is used to cut or shave the specimen; in manual morcellation, the surgeon uses a knife to carve the specimen. Power morcellation is performed through a laparoscopic incision, while the manual technique is performed through a minilaparotomy or vaginally after hysterectomy (TABLE). Unlike uncontained morcellation, contained morcellation involves the use of a laparoscopic bag to hold the specimen and therefore prevent tissue dissemination in the abdomen and pelvis.

Morcellation has greatly expanded our ability to perform minimally invasive surgery—for example, in patients with specimens that cannot be extracted en bloc through the vagina after hysterectomy or, in the case of myomectomy or supracervical hysterectomy without a colpotomy, through small laparoscopic ports. Minimally invasive surgery improves patient care, as it is associated with lower rates of infection, blood loss, venous thromboembolism, wound and bowel complications, postoperative pain, and shorter overall recovery time and hospital stay versus traditional open surgery.3,4 Furthermore, laparoscopic hysterectomy has a 3-fold lower risk of mortality compared with open hysterectomy.4 For these reasons, ACOG recommends choosing a minimally invasive approach for all benign hysterectomies whenever feasible.3

With abundant data supporting the use of a minimally invasive approach, laparoscopic morcellation allowed procedures involving larger tissue specimens to be accomplished without the addition of a minilaparotomy for tissue extraction. However, disseminating potentially malignant tissue throughout the abdomen and pelvis during the morcellation process remains a risk. While tissue spread can occur with either power or manual morcellation, the case that drew media attention to the controversy used power morcellation, and thus intense scrutiny focused on this technique. Morcellation has additional risks, including direct injury to surrounding organs, disruption of the pathologic specimen, and distribution of benign tissue throughout the abdomen and pelvis, such as fibroid, endometriosis, and adenomyosis implants.5-7

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