The doctor and her physician husband filed a morcellator lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, makers of the morcellator that was used on her. Dr. Reed and her husband denounced the morcellator device which hastened the spread of her cancer. She and her husband, Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, a cardiothoracic surgeon, had held teaching posts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. There, both Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm had teaching positions. A post operation biopsy found Dr. Reed had a hidden leiomyosarcoma. Dr. Noorchashm later called the morcellator a threat to national security. As a surgeon himself, Dr. Noorchashm was incensed at the notion of shredding potentially cancerous tissue inside a body cavity. He had been trained to cut around tumors, not through them, precisely because slicing into them could spread cancer cells.
Dr. Reed’s cause of death was listed as a type of cancer called leiomyosarcoma. This uterine cancer was greatly accelerated by a botched operation in 2013, when the doctor first went under the knife for the removal of precancerous fibroids. Dr. Reed was told that it was safe to surgically remove the fibroids with the high-powered tool called a morcellator.
The morcellator device works by slicing up tissue and vacuuming up cancerous cells piece by piece. The morcellator was approved by the U.S. FDA in 1995. The device has a spinning blade that slices up tissue so that it can be extracted through small incisions. Many surgeons regard it as a great boon to minimally invasive surgery, but if a patient has cancer, as Dr. Reed did, morcellation can worsen and spread the disease. The problem is that fibroids can’t be reliably distinguished from leiomyosarcoma.
The morcellator operation exacerbated Dr. Reed’s condition. The tool had spread harmful cancer cells inside her body. In just minutes, the slicing and dicing elevated her disease status from stage I to stage IV cancer. Days after her initial operation, biopsy reports revealed Dr. Reed had hidden leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancerous soft tissue tumor.
Doctor Who Denounced Morcellator Dies
Dr. Reed then embarked on an extensive treatment plan that included chemotherapy radiation, immunotherapy, and experimental treatments. She also underwent several major operations. Meanwhile, the cancer kept spreading, to her lungs, spine, abdomen. Following the first surgery, both Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm pushed for FDA to ban power morcellators. They sent thousands of emails to the FDA and several sectors across the country. They also emailed device makers, hospitals, legislators, professional societies, individual doctors, and news outlets.
One in 350 Women Affected
The devastated pair attained a major victory in 2014, a year after Dr. Reed’s surgery. They got the FDA to examine published and unpublished data on morcellation. Earlier estimates showed that between one in 10,000 to in one in 500 women with fibroids could have undiagnosed leiomyosarcomas or other uterine sarcomas. In April 2014, the FDA reevaluated. The agency concluded that hidden sarcomas were more common, affecting one in 350 fibroid cases. Soon afterwards, Johnson & Johnson pulled its morcellators from the market.
In November of 2014, the doctor pair gained another victory, as FDA released recommendations against using morcellators in a majority of women with uterine fibroids. The agency said that using the power morcellator on fibroid patients with hidden sarcoma could spread the cancer and reduce the patients’ mortality. The FDA also stressed that the statement should be treated as a “safety communication.” It did not issue any new regulation for morcellators.
Sadly, any victories the couple gained for morcellator safety came too late to help Dr. Reed. But heroically, she successfully turned a personal tragedy into a crusade to save other women from the procedure that had so harmed her.