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According to allegations in a recent lawsuit filed against Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon subsidiary, one of the company’s power morcellators used during a laparoscopic hysterectomy caused the dissemination and seeding of endometriosis, resulting in the painful spread of uterine cells into the abdomen.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Joan L. Schwartz in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on February 4, joining a growing number of Ethicon morcellator lawsuits filed in recent months by women nationwide over the unintended spread of tissue due, often involving previously undiagnosed cancer cells.
Morcellators have been used in recent years during minimally invasive, laparoscopic hysterectomy and uterine fibroid removal procedures, allowing the surgeon to cut up and remove tissue through a small hole in the abdomen.
While this is designed to reduce the risk of complications following surgery, morcellators have been largely abandoned by the medical community due to the risk that the devices may unintentionally cause the spread of tissue throughout the abdomen. This poses a particularly unacceptable risk for women with undiagnosed and unsuspected sarcoma hidden within the uterus, rapidly disseminating the cancerous cells to other areas of the body.
Schwartz indicates that one of Ethicon’s Gynecare Morcellex Morcellators was used during a laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy she underwent in April 2008. While Schwartz does not claim that the device caused the dissemination of cancer, she indicates that she was subsequently diagnosed with endometroisis and leiomyomatosis, which she attributes to the use of the device.
Endometroisis involves the painful growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus. As a result of the diagnosis, Scwartz indicates that she required numerous medical procedures to treat the side effects of endometroisosis.
“Plaintiff has had to undergo major exploratory surgery, right salpingo-oophorectomy, radical resection of peritoneal masses and a partial sigmoid resection and reanastomosis,” the lawsuit states. “She will likely have to undergo additional surgeries and treatments in the future.”
Ethicon Morcellator Lawsuits
The case joins a growing number of lawsuits filed over problems with Ethicon morcellators, the vast majority of which involving women diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, endometrial stromal sarcoma or other aggressive forms of uterine cancer that was disseminated by the device.
The litigation emerged after the FDA raised concerns about the link between uterine morcellation and cancer.
After concluding that there is no way to make the devices safe for women, Johnson & Johson’s Ethicon unit issued a morcellator recall in July 2014 and announced that they would no longer manufacturer or sell the devices.
Since October 2015, all Ethicon morcellator lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system have been consolidated as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil in the District of Kansas. Schwartz’s complaint likely will be transferred into the MDL for coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings.