ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Two studies out today raised concerns about a treatment for early stage cervical cancer that had gained favor in the U.S. The studies, published online in the New England Journal of Medicine, say minimally invasive surgery is actually worse for women than standard surgery. Now doctors are starting to shy away from it. NPR's Richard Harris reports.
RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Early cervical cancer is often treated with surgical removal of the diseased uterus. New techniques called minimally invasive surgery started becoming popular among doctors in 2006. Dr. Pedro Ramirez at MD Anderson Cancer Center says instead of one large incision...
PEDRO RAMIREZ: It will be performed through very small incisions in the abdomen where instruments are introduced in through the abdomen through those small incisions.
HARRIS: Ramirez and his colleagues decided to compare those two approaches. Six hundred women in total volunteered for this worldwide study. Overseers stopped the study early after noticing a significant and surprising difference.
RAMIREZ: Patients who underwent the minimally invasive surgery had four times greater likelihood of returns than when they had the surgery through the open approach.
HARRIS: They were also more likely to die in the next four years. Ramirez says surgeons at MD Anderson immediately changed their treatment for early cervical cancer.
RAMIREZ: We decided to stop offering the minimally invasive radical hysterectomy and completely convert to the open approach.
HARRIS: What's causing this is a bit of a mystery. Ramirez says similar studies show that minimally invasive surgery is just as good as open surgery if a uterus is removed as a result of uterine cancer.
RAMIREZ: For uterine cancer, minimally invasive surgery is safe.
HARRIS: A second study, which analyzed national data, found the same added risk of minimally invasive surgery to treat early stage cervical cancer. Co-author Emma Barber, a physician at Northwestern University, says already national guidelines are being changed, directing doctors to discuss the benefits and risks of these two options.
EMMA BARBER: I think increasingly that's going to be open surgery for many women, but there may still be a role for a minimally invasive surgery in some patients.
HARRIS: Richard Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.