Dr. Reed's cause of death was a type of cancer called leiomyosarcoma of the uterus, which was greatly accelerated following a botched operation in 2013. The physician first went under the knife in 2013 when she was diagnosed with precancerous fibroids. Dr. Reed was told that surgically removing the fibroids, using a high-powered tool called a morcellator, was safe. The device, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, works by slicing up the tissue and removing cancerous cells bit by bit. The tool was approved by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 1995. The operation was performed at the at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where Dr. Reed and her husband Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, a cardiothoracic surgeon, held teaching posts.
However, the operation exacerbated the physician's condition. The tool was found to spray harmful cancer cells inside the doctor's body cavity. This elevated her disease status from stage I cancer to stage IV cancer in minutes. Days after the operation, biopsy reports showed that Dr. Reed had hidden leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancerous soft tissue tumor.
Dr. Reed then embarked on an extensive treatment plan that included chemotherapy radiation, immunotherapy, and experimental treatments. The physician also underwent several major operations. However, the cancer kept spreading across the doctor's lungs, spine, and abdomen. Following the botched operation, both Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm pushed for morcellators to be banned in the U.S. The doctors sent thousands of emails to the FDA and several sectors across the country -- including device makers, hospitals, legislators, professional societies, and individual doctors -- as well as news organizations to publicize their cause.
The couple attained a major victory in 2014, a year after Dr. Reed's surgery, when the FDA examined published and unpublished data on morcellation. Previous estimates showed that between one in 10,000 to in one in 500 women with fibroids may have undiagnosed leiomyosarcomas or other uterine sarcomas. However, the agency concluded in April 2014 that hidden sarcomas were more common than previously thought, affecting one in 350 fibroid cases. Soon after, Johnson & Johnson subsequently removed it morcellators off the market.
In November of the same year, the couple gained another victory when the FDA released recommendations against the use of morcellators in a majority of women with fibroids. According to the agency, using the high-powered tool on fibroid patients with hidden sarcoma may spread the cancer and reduce the patients' long-term survival. However, the FDA stressed that the statement should be treated as a "safety communication," and not as a new regulation. (Related: Shrink uterine fibroids the natural way)
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