Thursday, July 2, 2015 - A motion to centralize at least 22 lawsuits focused on cancers allegedly spread by power morcellators was filed before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on June 18. The allegations center on the increased risk of cancer connected to the use of power morcellators for female patients.
The power morcellator is a medical device used in uterine procedures such as myomectomies and hysterectomies. It is used to conduct small removals of uterine fluid or tissues, oftentimes allowing physicians to make operations in the area much smaller and less invasive for the patient. This leads to benefits such as a smaller chance of infection and faster recovery times. Procedures that employ the power morcellator also leave the patient with less visible scarring.
The device however began to raise red flags after it was discovered that it had the capability to spread cancer cells located in the uterus throughout the organ, causing a higher risk for the disease the spread in those who received treatment from a power morcellator. Though it has been estimated that roughly 0.3 percent of women who undergo surgeries involving a power morcellator have uterine cancer, around half a million women have undergone procedures involving the device. This leaves more than 1,000 women potentially affected by the ability of the power morcellator to spread cancerous diseases in their uterus.
The 22 cases up for centralization before the JPML come from 16 different courts around the U.S. The lawsuits all carry similar claims against the manufacturers of power morcellators, alleging that the companies were aware of the risk the devices posed to patients and failed to adequately warn those who may be affected. The plaintiffs have requested for their cases to be heard in the District of Kansas federal court.
Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, is the largest manufacturer of power morcellators. The company is one of a handful of companies named as defendants in the lawsuits, including Cook Urological, Inc., Nouvag and Olympus. In light of the allegations made against the company in the lawsuits, Ethicon no longer offers its power morcellator devices on the market. A number of hospitals discontinued the use of power morcellators as well after news of the product‘s link to cancer risk spread throughout the industry. Despite the pull back Ethicon has made in regards to its own morcellator devices, the company has stopped short of putting out a full recall for the product.
The lawsuits gained steam after an FDA warning issued in April of 2014 stating that the power morcellator increased the risk of the spread of cancer in the uterus. Many involved in the lawsuits called for the FDA to issue a recall, however that avenue was never pursued by the FDA. Since the 2014 however, the FDA has endorsed traditional hysterectomies not involving the power morcellator as a safer choice for patients.
The defendants named in the motion to centralize the lawsuits need to respond to the MDL request by the end of the week. Oral arguments in relation to the possible centralization of the lawsuits are expected to begin in October of 2015.