A doctor practicing in west-central Minnesota has been sanctioned by the state Board of Medical Practice for misusing a surgical device that spread cancerous ovarian tissue in a patient’s body.
The action regarding Dr. Walter Bro, an obstetrician-gynecologist based in Fargo, came after years of warnings and lawsuits in the U.S. over the device, known as a power morcellator.
The device was devised for minimally invasive gynecologic procedures to easily cut up and remove tissues or masses. But the blender-like action of the device can churn and spread cells in the body, which is a problem if they turn out to be cancerous.
“[Bro] inappropriately used a power morcellator during the removal of a patient’s ovarian mass, resulting in the spread of ovarian cancer,” according to an agreement reached between Bro and the state board.
The corrective agreement was reached in September but wasn’t reviewed by the state board until its November meeting. In lieu of a disciplinary action against his license, Bro agreed to complete training in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer and the identification of tumor markers, and to write a paper about what he learned.
A statement from Sanford Health, Bro’s employer, said he retired last year but works for the health system on an as-needed basis.
No details about the patient or the procedure’s outcome were listed in the document, and the board’s executive director said she was barred from commenting.
A number of lawsuits over power morcellators have been filed in recent years, particularly after a 2014 warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration against their use in hysterectomies or procedures to remove uterine fibroids. The FDA reported that one in as many as 350 women with presumed noncancerous fibroids actually had cancerous sarcomas, and that morcellation could spread that cancerous tissue throughout their abdomens.
The FDA has since approved containment devices to prevent tissue from escaping during morcellation, but some doctors have stopped using the device altogether.
“I can’t speak nationally, per se, but in the Twin Cities they’re basically not used anymore, in part because of the unfortunate cases of unsuspected cancer,” said Dr. Leeann Hubbard, an OB-GYN with HealthPartners.
Hubbard said she hadn’t used one of the devices since 2009, when she was still in residency.
Morcellators were designed to ease the removal of the uterus while leaving the lower portion, or cervix, intact. Research has since found no clinical benefit to performing hysterectomies that leave the cervix intact, she said.