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The Hysterectomy Deluxe: Should The Ovaries Come Out Too?

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All hysterectomies are not alike. Whether performed abdominally or vaginally, with or without the cervix, and inclusive or exclusive of the tubes and ovaries, one surgeon's discarded tissue specimens are another surgeon's salvaged organs. What most women don't realize however, is that there is no one right answer, and that they too should be decision makers in their own hysterectomies.

According to a recent study in the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, more than half of all U.S. women who undergo hysterectomy also undergo oophorectomy, or removal of their ovaries. The classic thought behind taking them out in a sort of hysterectomy deluxe , kill two birds with one stone fashion, is that removing ovaries can also remove the potential risk of developing ovarian cancer. Last year, 14,600 U.S. women died from ovarian cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The fallacy in this argument, of course, is that not every ovary will develop cancer if left alone. Most women in in the remaining 45 percent of hysterectomy cases without oophorectomy do not go on to wish they had taken their ovaries out when they had the chance. In fact, for these women, whether pre-menopausal or post-menopausal, remaining ovaries can act as hormonal shields from depression, hip fractures, strokes, and heart disease, which killed over 316,000 U.S. women in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study argues that for otherwise healthy woman without breast or ovarian cancer, elective removal of the ovaries may do more harm than good. This is important information given that other similar studies have found elective oophorectomy to be on the rise in U.S. women.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh McGee Women's Hospital recently found that while age-adjusted ratios for elective oophorectomy with hysterectomy have decreased since 1974, the actual proportion of said oophorectomies has done just the opposite. National rates are trending upward in recent years, despite solid research that shows estrogen's heart and bone-protecting benefits. The former study calls for a change, using patient education and involvement to create a more selective surgical process.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. For patients with current or past histories of breast and/or ovarian cancer, any estrogen is too much estrogen. This is because estrogen can act like fertilizer in some of these cancers. For this reason, you've probably heard about women with positive family histories of breast cancer electing to remove their ovaries or breasts even though they themselves haven't been diagnosed with disease. If the genes are there, taking away the potential fertilizer may take away the risk altogether. For these women undergoing hysterectomy, the addition of an oophorectomy may be a welcomed bonus.

If hysterectomy is a procedure you are currently considering, be sure to discuss these options with your Ob/Gyn to determine which choice is best for your individual situation.

Lowder JL, Oliphant SS, Ghetti C, et al. Prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy or removal of remaining ovary at the time of hysterectomy in the United States, 1979-2004. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010;202.
William H. Parker, MD. Bilateral Oophorectomy versus Ovarian Conservation: Effects on Long-term Women's health. The Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology. Volume 17, Issue 2, Pages 161-166 (March 2010).

Add a Comment4 Comments

I had a hysterectomy a couple of years ago ( I am 49 now). I had very large fibroids, one as big as a football. I kept my ovaries and cervix because there was nothing wrong with them. I felt pressure by the Dr. to "get everything out" , because it would be easier, and I wouldn't have to get a PAP anymore. I weighed the risks -family history of breast cancer (my aunt), early onset of menses being the most troubling. Even when I went to my family physicians' assistant to get a pap smear--she ( yes , she) was taken aback and said in a not so nice tone of voice " Who's idea was that!!"
I am very glad I kept them and haven't had any symptoms of menopause yet. I do get the impression that it isn't the thing to do, but I just don't see it as always the right way to go for every woman out there!!

March 18, 2010 - 4:32pm

If you have had breast cancer, doing the genetic test for the BRACA 1 or BRACA 2 gene is a good idea. Statistics with these genes for breast or ovarian cancer is higher than the normal public is the reason you see women opting for surgeries.

March 18, 2010 - 2:35pm
EmpowHER Guest

glad this came up- went to breast surgeon- who suggested i do a genetics test - if it came out positive- she strongly suggested I have both my ovaries removed & a maschetmy- I am going to another dr. who is not so knife crazy. I don't believe in any of this prophlatic surgery- I think it just makes the surgeons rich & busy which is what they want at the risk of mutiliating women

March 18, 2010 - 1:47pm

A complex issue with no exact answer. The answer has to be the woman's choice on what is right for her, her condition, health, history and expectations, not what her friend or neighbor had done.

March 18, 2010 - 1:13pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.