I am very excited about a new study that was just reported at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting about the removal of healthy ovaries during a hysterectomy.

When I was trained as a surgeon many, many years ago, we were told that you should always remove a woman’s ovaries if she was finished having children because they were useless and would only get cancer if left behind. We did not have very sensitive blood tests for hormones and thought that the ovaries stopped working at menopause and so were, in essence, dispensable. I had always suspected that this was not true, and would counsel patients and friends to fight for their ovaries.

Now that we have more sensitive hormone tests, we know that in postmenopausal women the ovaries produce low levels of estrogen. They also produce testosterone and androstenedione, two hormones that are converted into estrogen in a woman’s bones, brain, breasts, muscles, fat, and other organs. Even so, doctors have typically believed that removing the uterus should always include removing the ovaries, unless there was a good reason not to do so.

Dr. William Parker, a clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues, reported on their study that used the Nurse’s Health Study database to evaluate the health affects of a hysterectomy. The study showed that the women who had their ovaries removed when they had a hysterectomy had a higher risk of death from all causes than did women who kept their ovaries. This was true even if the women took estrogen after their ovaries were removed.

It is true that the women who had their ovaries removed were less likely to get ovarian cancer or breast cancer. But that did not outweigh the increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke that was seen in the group of women who had had their ovaries removed.

The message is clear: Just because the medical profession has not yet figured out why an organ is still there, doesn’t mean we should remove it!

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4 Responses to When Possible, Keep Your Ovaries

  1. Lori Worbington says:

    Okay, so is it the estrogen and other hormones the ovaries produce throughout our lives, we need in any amount to sustain a longer life? As this research points out, as so, then what about breast cancer survivors who still have ovaries, but take an anti-estrogen such as Femera? Would it mean, a woman can still benefit by still having her ovaries even though her estrogen is being taken away and still producing the other hormones as mentioned?

  2. Maryl Gavazzi says:

    At the age of 38 – 25 years ago last Thursday – I was diagnosed with rapidly progressing estrogen receptive stage II intraductal carcinoma in my right breast. I had a radical mastectomy and 23 underarm lymph nodes were removed with 3 involved. Because I was cautioned that I may only survive 2 years, I volunteered to be a part of a clinical trial at Roswell Park Institute in Buffalo, NY where I had my ovaries removed 3 weeks later. I received no chemo or radiation after the second surgery. I have had no reoccurences and have lived cancer free since then. Although I have slight adema in my right arm because of the lymph removal, I have had very few problems since then. Because of the oopherectomy, the hot flashes lasted for several years but I thought it was a small price to pay for the cause. For the last 12 years, I have been on fosamax for bone loss but aside from the fact that I am now almost 64, I am able to care for my grandchildren daily and am truly able to enjoy the fruits of living well past the doctor’s prediction. I have seen my children be graduated through college, marry and have 5 wonderful grandchilden. What a blessed life I am living.

  3. I insisted to my surgeon to keep my one remaining ovary and cervic when I had my hysterectomy due to what she said was pre-cancer of the uterus from tamoxifen

    for all I know she took the remaining ovary out anyway but I hope she didn’t not sure if there is any way to check this out without having a mri so far so good I did have a “scare” in the other breast but so far I am OK

  4. Kristina Brown says:

    I just had a bilateral oopherectomy for a very large mucinous ovarian cyst. They took both ovaries. I am 63 and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. I am wondering about having hormone replacement due to the loss of my ovaries. Doctors appear to be very reluctant given the fact that my cancer was hormone positive. Anyone have any information or insight about this question?

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