Study questions ovary removal during hysterectomy

Every year, an estimated 600,000 women have hysterectomies, mostly for noncancerous conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis, and uterine prolapse. About half have their ovaries removed at the same time (a procedure called oophorectomy). The main reason for doing so is to reduce the chances of getting ovarian cancer. But this form of cancer is relatively uncommon. The average woman's lifetime risk is less than 2%, though risk does rise with age.

Most physicians recommend oophorectomy for all postmenopausal women undergoing hysterectomy, evidently assuming that once her reproductive years are over, her ovaries will likely do more harm than good. But one study has challenged this assumption, suggesting that women generally derive no survival advantage from having their ovaries removed and, if they undergo oophorectomy before age 65, may actually be at greater risk for certain health problems.

The study, in Obstetrics and Gynecology (August 2005), was designed to evaluate the risks and benefits of oophorectomy among women at average risk for ovarian cancer who had hysterectomies for noncancerous conditions. (The study did not address women at increased risk for ovarian cancer.) Using data from various long-term studies, including the Nurses' Health Study and the Women's Health Initiative, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California created an analytical model of the surgery's effects.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »