The power morcellator was first approved by the FDA in 1993 for use in surgical procedures. This tool gave surgeons the ability to perform hysterectomies as well as uterine fibroid removal without making a large incision as they could use the device to section the uterus into smaller pieces before removing it through the smaller opening of the laparoscopic tube.
Previous to the introduction of the power morcellator, doctors were required to make large incisions and conduct more invasive procedures to remove uterine tissue, uterine fibroids, or other tissues. The ability of the power morcellator to fit into the surgical site via the laparoscopic tube was seen as a great advancement.
Prior to 1993, surgeons did have the option to use a manual morcellator, which performed a similar function but involved squeezing the handle in order to section up the tissue. Before this, anytime that a surgeon wished to remove a larger cluster of tissue, he or she would either have to make an incision that was large enough to remove it in one piece or rely on a scalpel or similar instrument to divide it into smaller sections.
Use of power morcellators grew rapidly, and by the late 1990s, between 55,000 and 75,000 hysterectomies in the United States involved their use with more than a dozen different devices available on the market.
Starting in around 2011, women who had undergone procedures that involved a morcellator began to notice the side effects. A South Korean study published in 2011 found that women whose uterine tumors were removed using morcellators had an increased risk of the disease spreading and death compared to those whose tumors were removed using other methods.
These effects were officially recognized by an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2014, which noted that using a power morcellator may lead to the dispersion of small pieces from undetected malignant tumors. After this dispersion, the pieces could lead to other cancers that are potentially more dangerous.
In April 2014, the FDA officially issued a warning linking morcellators, specifically power morcellators, to the spread of disease. Due to the inability to accurately and reliably detect cancerous uterine fibroids, the FDA recommended that the device no longer be used for hysterectomies or myomectomies for uterine fibroids. Following this, Johnson & Johnson, one of the dozen or so manufacturers of the morcellator, stated that it would stop sales of the device, although it did not issue a recall.
Many women have filed individual lawsuits against morcellator manufacturers due to the spread of undiagnosed uterine cancer. So far there has not been a class action lawsuit, although that type of lawsuit may occur in the future.