Mixed Research Findings Reinforce Need for Individual Decision on Removal of Ovaries

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Oophorectomy. That’s a big word, but one that many women in their 40s and above have heard before. An oophorectomy involves the removal of one or both ovaries while a bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy removes both the fallopian tubes and both ovaries, according to Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in their book, “The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause.”

    First of all, let’s learn more about this surgery. According to Medicinenet.com, surgical menopause “occurs when a premenopausal women has her ovaries surgically removed in a procedure called a bilateral oophorectomy. This causes an abrupt menopause, with women often experiencing more severe menopausal symptoms than if they were to experience menopause naturally.” Doctors often recommend a bilateral oophorectomy due to cervical cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer, although it can be performed as a treatment for other conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis or infections.

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    While a bilateral oophorectomy can be part of a hysterectomy, a hysterectomy doesn’t always involve the removal of ovaries and, thus, doesn’t result in menopause. There are other types of surgeries that may involve the ovaries’ removal. These include:

    • Abdominal resection, which is done to treat colon and rectal cancer. “While this surgery usually involves the removal of the lower colon and rectum, it can also include partial or total removal of the lower colon and rectum, it can also include partial or total removal of the uterus and ovaries, as well as the rear wall of the vagina,” stated MedicineNet.com.
    • Total pelvic exenteration, which is performed in cases of recurring cervical cancer after surgery and radiation. “It involves the removal of most pelvic organs, including: the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, vagina, bladder, urethra, and part of the rectum,” MedicineNet.com noted.

    For many years, studies have been mixed, which have caused researchers, doctors and women to worry that removing both ovaries would increase a woman’s chance of dying for diseases related to aging.

    For instance, a new study published in Fertility and Sterility suggests that removing both of a woman’s ovaries is safe.  In this research, Dr. Katherine Henderson, an associate professor at the Beckman Research Institute of California’s City of Hope National Medical Center, and her team of researchers reviewed data from more than 130,000 California teachers. Reuters Health Information reported the scientists found that women who were 45 years old and above when they had a bilateral oophorectomies had a slightly lower chance of dying than participants who didn’t have the procedure during the length of the study. Furthermore, women who were under age 45 when they had surgery did not have an increased risk of death over that time period.

    However, other researchers’ findings indicate there can be health risks with having this procedure. Seaman and Eldridge also reported on a study by Dr. William Parker and his team. “Based on their model, if 10,000 women between the ages of fifty and fifty-four undergo a hysterectomy with oophorectomy, they will have forty-seven fewer cases of ovarian cancer by the time they reach eighty than a similar group who keep their ovaries. The oophorectomy group, however, will suffer 838 additional deaths from coronary heart disease as well as 158 more deaths from hip fractures,” the pair wrote, adding that these women did not use estrogen therapy, which can help women without ovaries live longer. However, in the Reuters Health Information report, one researcher pointed out that it is difficult to find an association between the removal of ovaries and death from heart disease or cancer due to many factors, including the amount of time between the surgery and death.

  • So what should you do? I agree with the researchers and the medical professions that it’s a very personal decision. You need to ask lots of questions of your doctors, do a lot of research and make the best choice based on your own individual situation.

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Published On: November 29, 2011