An oophorectomy is a procedure involving the surgical removal of the ovaries. Oophorectomies treat serious gynecological conditions and diseases and are often done as part of a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or a salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes). There are two types of oophorectomy: a bilateral oophorectomy removes both ovaries, and a unilateral oophorectomy removes one ovary.
Why is an Oophorectomy Necessary?
The ovaries have a significant role in hormone production, so an oophorectomy is normally performed only when absolutely necessary to treat specific gynecological disorders or diseases.
Gynecological conditions that may require a oophorectomy include:
- Ovarian cancer
- Noncancerous ovarian tumors, cysts or abscess
- Ovarian torsion (a twisted ovary)
- A history of or genetic predisposition to certain types of ovarian and breast cancer
Oophorectomy vs. Hysterectomy
Some gynecological conditions require treatment by removing both the uterus and the ovaries. However, if a woman needs a hysterectomy but her ovaries are healthy, it is usually best to leave them intact because of the crucial role they play in production of essential female hormones.
Alt Text: Oopherectomy Patient Consulting with Surgeon About Ovary Removal
A gynecological disorder or disease may make it necessary to remove the fallopian tubes together with the ovaries. This procedure is called a Salpingo-oophorectomy. Like an oophorectomy, a Salpingo-oophorectomy can be unilateral (removal of one fallopian tube) or bilateral (removal of both fallopian tubes).
Gynecological conditions that may require a salpingo-oophorectomy include:
- Benign or cancerous tumors or cysts
- Tubo-ovarian abscess
- When the fallopian tube is damaged from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy
- Ovarian torsion in which the fallopian tube becomes necrotic (premature death of cells in living tissue)
Women with a history of ovarian cancer may choose to have an elective salpingo-oophorectomy as a preventative measure against the disease. The removal of the entire reproductive system (uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes) is called a ovariohysterectomy.
Oophorectomy Surgery & Recovery Rates
There are two main surgical options for an oophorectomy and doctors determine which method is best for individual patients based on underlying medical conditions, current health, and personal medical history.
- Traditional (Open) Oophorectomy. A traditional oophorectomy is performed via an incision made in the abdomen. In this form of the procedure, a surgeon opens the abdomen, separates the ovary from the blood supply and surrounding tissue, and removes it.
- Laparoscopic Oophorectomy. A laparoscopic oophorectomy is performed via several small incisions made in the abdomen. A camera is inserted through one of the incisions and relays images to a video monitor which surgeons use to guide the operation. In a laparoscopic oophorectomy, the ovaries are separated from the blood supply and surrounding tissues, and removed through one of the other incisions. Robotic tools are occasionally used during a laparoscopic oophorectomy. In a robotic laparoscopic oophorectomy, a surgeon removes the ovaries with robotic tools that allow for exceptionally fine surgical movements.
The type of surgical procedure a woman has depends on her particular medical situation. Laparoscopic oophorectomies are less painful than traditional oophorectomies and recovery time is quicker, but laparoscopic surgery is not always the best option for everyone. Furthermore, a laparoscopic oophorectomy may, in the course of an operation, need to be modified into a traditional oophorectomy depending on medical circumstances.
The recovery time after an oophorectomy depends on the type of surgery provided and the medical situation of each patient. In-hospital recovery time can vary from several hours to a few days and physical activity should be limited for the first few weeks after surgery. Women can expect to return to full physical activity between two and six weeks after an oophorectomy.
Side Effects of an Oophorectomy
In the case of a unilateral oophorectomy, side effects are usually limited. If the removal of the ovary successfully treats the gynecological condition and there are no lingering health issues affecting the reproductive organs, it is still possible for a woman with one ovary to become pregnant. The remaining ovary will compensate for the removed ovary and ovulation and menstruation will continue as normal. Female hormone levels produced by the ovaries should also remain the same.
Women who have a bilateral oophorectomy are no longer able to have children and the body will go into menopause. Symptoms associated with bilateral oophorectomies are the same symptoms for menopause and include hormonal changes, hot flashes, decreased libido, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis, and possible changes in mood.
Many of the menopausal symptoms associated with an oophorectomy can be treated with low dose Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but HRT has its own health risks, including higher rates of heart attack, blood clots, stroke and certain cancers.
Oophorectomies are also associated with higher rates of heart disease, memory problems, and a shortened life span.
Health Benefits of an Oophorectomy
It is always daunting to weigh the pros and cons of any surgery, especially when the side effects can be as serious as they are for an oophorectomy, but removal of the ovaries can treat debilitating or life-threatening gynecological disorders. Successful treatment of such health conditions can outweigh the possible side effects. Women who are considering an oophorectomy should discuss all their options with their doctors, and make the choice that is best for their full health and personal circumstances.