Harvard Women's Health Watch

Should my doctor take out my ovaries during my hysterectomy?

Ask the doctor

Q. I'm having a hysterectomy for uterine prolapse. Are there advantages to leaving my ovaries, or should they be removed as well?

A. It depends on your age. In the past, it was common to recommend that women who were planning hysterectomies for benign problems to have their fallopian tubes and ovaries removed to greatly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer—a deadly cancer for which there is no good screening test. If you are nearing or have completed menopause, there is little disadvantage to this approach.

However, for younger women, data from several major studies have challenged the notion that the ovaries should routinely be removed along with the uterus when conditions other than cancer are the reason for the hysterectomy. The studies indicate that when a woman has a hysterectomy with removal of tubes and ovaries for a benign condition, her risk of breast and ovarian cancer declines, but her likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, or lung cancer goes up. In fact, losing her ovaries increases her risk of dying from any cause. Removing the fallopian tubes, but not the ovaries, appears to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, but not to the same extent as removal of both the tubes and ovaries.

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