Having a hysterectomy? 5 side effects of having your ovaries removed

Here are some reasons why you may keep your ovaries if you’re having a hysterectomy.

About 6000 hysterectomies are performed in the U.S every year and about half or these are accompanied by removal of apparently normal ovaries. The reasoning behind this is that it reduces the occurrence of ovarian cancer, i.e. if your ovaries aren’t there, then they can’t become cancerous.

Ovarian cancer is not common – about 1 in 400 American women will develop ovarian cancer by the age of 50. The main problem with ovarian cancer is that it is usually detected in the late stages when treatment becomes virtually useless.

Unfortunately, removing the ovaries before the age of 65 also carries some major health risks. If you’re having a hysterectomy for a benign (non-cancerous) condition, here are 5 reasons to keep your ovaries:

  1. You will have less chance of developing ovarian cancer. Does that sound confusing? Let me explain. When you have a hysterectomy, the surgeon looks at the ovaries to make sure that they’re healthy before the abdomen is closed up. Any abnormal looking ovaries are usually removed at this point. A more likely explanation according to some studies that have been done suggests that:
    • removal of the uterus closes the route through which cancer-causing agents like talc, uterine tissue and the human papilloma virus would have reached the ovaries,
    • destruction of some tissues of the reproductive system cause release of substances which in turn cause the production of antibodies which protect you from developing ovarian cancer.

    This reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer lasts for 10-20 years after the hysterectomy.

  2. After menopause, the ovaries continue producing the hormones androstenedione and testosterone until the age of 80. These hormones are converted to estrone, the main form of estrogen found in the body after menopause. Removal of the ovaries even after menopause can cause sudden onset or worsening of menopause symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances and depression.
  3. You’ll be less likely to have a hip fracture. Estrogens and androgens slow down the rate at which bone is broken down in the body. Removing the postmenopausal ovary removes a major source of androgens which are converted to estrogen. One study has shown that women who had their ovaries removed after menopause had a 54% higher risk of having a fracture due to osteoporosis than postmenopausal women who still had their ovaries.
  4. You will have less chance of developing heart disease. The absence of the sex hormones that are produced after menopause further increase your risk of developing heart disease. This could be bad news especially if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Recent research has shown that women who have their ovaries removed have a much higher risk of developing heart disease.
    Two groups of women (one group had their ovaries removed and the others kept theirs) were studied and the results showed that the women who had their ovaries removed:
    • had a higher chance of dying (12% increase)
    • had a higher risk of developing heart disease (17% increase)
    • had a higher chance of developing lung cancer (26% increase)

    However, they did not develop ovarian cancer and were less likely to get breast cancer.

    In the US about 14,700 women die from ovarian cancer each year. While this is a painful experience for the woman and her family, this is much less than over 400,000 deaths in women from from heart disease and stroke combined.

  5. Medication may not be the solution.It has been argued that estrogen replacement therapy and other forms of medication can help with some of these conditions like menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis after the ovaries have been removed. These therapies have their own risks and some women go off the medication because of distressing side effects.

With women living longer now (average of 78 years), quality of life becomes very important in any decision you take about your health. I haven’t written this to scare you into keeping your ovaries. I think it’s important to have a balanced view so that you can make informed decisions. Do some reading, talk to your doctor, ask him/her questions and expect answers in simple language you can understand. At the end of all this, make the decision that best suits your personal circumstances.

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  1. I just had a hysterectomy 2 weeks ago. My doctor said I could vertually do anything excep heavy lifting. But I read no bending. I have been bending until no.

    I just read about the mother that contracted ovarian cancer after a partial hysterectomy. The doctor left my ovaries due to the fact I had no cancer in the operation. Now I am worried. Do I need to have regular ultra-sounds to check my ovaries through life.


  2. I’m sorry for your loss Amy. I did mention that keeping your ovaries can result in developing ovarian cancer later in life. However, I was trying to emphasize that the benefits of keeping the ovaries can outweigh the risks for some women. I just think that women should be given as much information as possible to make an informed decisions about their bodies and their health. It is unfair to give them only one side of the story. Every woman is different. I am not for or against keeping the ovaries. I believe in giving women viable options when it comes to their health. Take care and God bless you.

  3. I have a very good reason for not keeping your ovaries. My mother had a hysterectomy over 31 years ago and the doctors left her ovaries. May 21, 2007 she was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer. After 56 days in the hospital and 2 surgeries later my mother died August 14, 2007. Her last three months on this earth was hell. If those doctors would have removed her ovaries I would still have my mother and best friend.

  4. Hi Nora. Thanks for dropping by. As you may have noticed, I strongly believe that women (and men as well for that matter) need to have as much information as possible both for and against any procedure they are having. Unfortunately information is often skewed towards one particular point of view. Checked out your site. You have a lot of resources there. Very interesting. Good luck with your activities and have a great day.

  5. You’ve make several excellent points. One of the problems women face is that we are not taught about female anatomy and what happens to a woman’s body when their female organs are removed.

    At http://www.hersfoundation.org/anatomy you can watch a short female anatomy video that every woman needs to see:

    Female Anatomy: the Functions of the Female Organs

    • Doesn’t sound too hopeful, in fact very depressing to someone who has to have a total hysterectomy in two days. I am absolutely terrified, the only thing I have to look forward to is just living, what’s the point of it if this is what I have to look forward to. I have no symptoms of cancer but biopsy showed severe dysplasia outside perimeter and MRI revealed cancer cells deep within cervix, right ovary 5.5 cm but seeping in several areas it has ruptured several times (which is the only symptom I feel) I’m feeling deeply depressed and I don’t even have it done.

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