Oophorectomy: How Ovary Removal Affects The Body

Oophorectomy, the surgical procedure to remove one or both the ovaries, is often performed during a hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus.

Women may opt for the procedure as a result of problems with the reproductive organs such as ovarian cancer, endometriosis, tumors or cysts, tubo-ovarian abscess etc. Those at increased risk of ovarian cancer or breast cancer may be able to reduce the risk with the procedure.

"Most patients who are found to have a BRCA mutation are interested in meeting with a gynecologist or gynecologic oncologist to discuss risk-reducing removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes," said Christine Bruha, a certified genetic counselor at Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida.

Cancer prevention usually involves the removal of both ovaries. But for issues like a cyst, experts recommend leaving the healthy ovary intact. 

"One ovary is enough to avoid changes in fertility potential and hormonal function," said Dr. Matthew T. Siedhoff, a gynecologic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

There are two ways to perform oophorectomy — a laparotomy, which involves one long incision in your lower abdomen, or a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, which is less painful and easier to recover from. The medical reasons influence which procedure the doctor will choose for the patient.

The surgical removal of both ovaries will cause immediate menopause. As a result, women may abruptly experience the typical symptoms (hot flashes, memory problems, mood changes, vaginal dryness) instead of naturally and gradually transitioning through them. In cases of severe discomfort, hormone-replacement therapy can help ease the process. The removal of ovaries causes sterility, with doctors advising those who want to have biological children to consider preserving their eggs. 

While the procedure is relatively safe, studies have revealed slightly elevated risks associated with patients who have opted for it. Research has found a higher risk of osteoporosis, dementia, and death by any cause associated with the procedure. Additionally, the risk of heart disease doubles in women who have their ovaries removed at a young age, according to Dr. Elizabeth Poynor, a gynecologic oncologist and pelvic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

The rapid decrease of estrogen in the body can also affect the patient emotionally and psychologically. Changes in sex drive can be expected while some women may experience mood variations.

The recovery period will roughly cover between 2 to 6 weeks. The time taken to recover from the procedure may be longer if it is part of a hysterectomy. Ultimately, oophorectomy is a highly effective prevention method where the benefits outweigh the risks by far.

Those who carry a genetic mutation can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by 50 percent and ovarian cancer by 90 percent. If you believe you may be at risk of carrying the BRCA mutation, consider genetic testing by speaking to a health professional.