By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
In some cases, the surgical removal of ovaries can offer a woman significant benefits. This depends greatly on the individual characteristics of the woman and her specific genealogy.
The beneficial aspects of conducting surgery depend on the reason for which the procedure is undertaken, which will be considered in greater detail below.
It is relatively common for ovarian cysts to occur in premenopausal women, which are usually non-malignant and resolve on their own. However, occasionally the cyst may persist for several months, causing significant abdominal pain and bloating, in addition to heavy bleeding.
For the surgical removal of the cyst, a unilateral oophorectomy is usually sufficient to remove the affected area on one side. This may involve the full or partial removal of the ovary, depending on the size and location of the cyst.
After the recovery period from surgery, the symptoms resulting from the ovarian cyst improves. This offers a pronounced benefit, as the symptoms resolve thus improving quality of life. Additionally, if some of the ovaries remain intact, this lessens the risk associated with complete removal.
A small percentage of ovarian cysts (5%) may be malignant and threaten both the immediate and long-term health of affected individuals.
In the case of malignancy, the benefits of surgery far outweigh any risks. The removal of malignant cells helps to reduce the spread of cancer throughout the body.
This has been shown to directly decrease mortality rates, as the malignancy can often be removed completely. Additionally, the quality of life women affected by this is markedly improved.
A widespread reason for women to request an oophorectomy is the belief that the possibility of preventing ovarian cancer outweighs the risk associated with the surgical procedure. However, the logic behind this is debatable as there are some serious risks involved with surgery.
For some specific populations, there is an increased risk of getting breast cancer and preventative surgery to remove the ovaries may be a more reasonable option.
This is particularly evident for women with the high-risk BRCA1 gene mutation. It has been shown that the risk of both ovarian and breast cancer is reduced for these women if they undertake an oophorectomy at approximately 40 years of age. This leads to statistically significant longer survival rates.
In addition to longer survival rates, preventing a case of ovarian or breast cancer with prophylactic ovary removal also offers advantages for quality of life. In particular, women are less likely to need to be subjected to intrusive treatments and surgeries associated with these cancers.
For women with BRCA2 mutations, risk of these cancers is also increased. Oophorectomy at around the age of 40 has been shown to provide a modest benefit, although it is not clear if this completely offsets the risks that are associated with surgery. When combined with a prophylactic mastectomy, however, the survival advantage is more significant.
On rare occasions, severe endometriosis can be treated with an oophorectomy. The removal of the ovaries eliminates the menstrual cycle and results in reduced pain and less spreading of existing endometriosis. This procedure is often conducted together with a hysterectomy to inhibit recurrence.
Oophorectomy for women who suffer from endometriosis offers the benefit of a solution when other methods of treatment have proven unsuccessful.
Are the benefits worth it?
Whether the overall benefits of undertaking an oophorectomy are worth it depends on the specific situation. Each reason for surgery is associated with different benefits if the surgery is completed successfully. Naturally, these should be weighed up against the potential risks before a clinical decision is made.
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2015