An oophorectomy isn’t just hard to pronounce — the two “o’s” are pronounced separately, as in: “oh-off-ah-REKT-omm-ee” — it’s a delicate surgical procedure as well. In an oophorectomy, one or both of your ovaries are extracted surgically, in a unilateral or bilateral oophorectomy, respectively. It’s a serious procedure with lifelong consequences.
Your ovaries are the almond-sized organs that release eggs into your fallopian tubes, where they can become impregnated. A fertilized egg eventually makes its way to your uterus, where it gestates. Without your ovaries, you have no eggs to fertilize and so you can no longer get pregnant. Your ovaries also secrete important hormones, such as estrogen, that regulate your menstrual cycles.
Candidates for an Oophorectomy
Most women wouldn’t volunteer to have their ovaries removed unless it was absolutely medically necessary. As it turns out, there are valid medical reasons for this procedure, including these conditions:
- Benign (noncancerous) ovarian tumors
- An ovarian cyst
- Ovarian cancer
- An abscess that has invaded an ovary and a fallopian tube (a tubo-ovarian abscess)
- An ovarian torsion, which is a twisted ovary that blood vessels can’t reach
Additionally, some women opt for the procedure voluntarily because they know that they have an elevated risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer, based on family history or past tests. Having their ovaries removed is a preventative step, albeit an extreme one, to live a long cancer-free life. In these cases, the women often have their fallopian tubes removed at the same time in a procedure called a salpingo-oophorectomy.
Women who’ve survived breast cancer may decide to undergo what’s called a prophylactic ovary removal. This oophorectomy after breast cancer is a preventative measure to keep the cancer from returning. According to BreastCancer.org, premenopausal breast cancer survivors who took the drug tamoxifen for five years and removed their ovaries had much lower incidents of returning cancer.
Risks of an Oophorectomy
Despite the delicacy of the procedure, an oophorectomy is actually a fairly risk-free surgery, at least in the hands of a qualified gynecological surgeon. You have the usual surgery-related risks, such as infection and bleeding. The other rarer risks include:
- Rupturing a tumor in the process of removing an ovary. It’s possible that a punctured tumor could release cancerous cells to the nearby area, thus spreading the disease to other parts of your body.
- Damaging other organs, such as your bladder or bowel. Even in a minimally invasive procedure, unintentional damage can have lasting consequences.
- Obstructing your small bowel. As you get older, it gets difficult enough to evacuate your bowels. This possibility just makes it worse.
- Leaving some of the extracted ovary behind. If your ovary isn’t completely removed, the remaining bits, which may be cancerous, can cause further pain, especially in premenopausal women. This condition is called ovarian remnant syndrome.
If you haven’t yet reached menopause but have both your ovaries removed, you may experience menopausal symptoms because your ovaries are so important to your monthly cycle. Without the hormones from your ovaries, you may:
- Experience hot flashes, night sweats, a dry vagina and other physical menopause-related conditions
- Feel more susceptible to anxiety, depression and other emotional menopause-related symptoms
- Have memory loss and trouble remembering
- Be more prone to heart disease and osteoporosis
- Lose your sex drive
You can take hormone replacement drugs, but they have risks of their own. When you have your ovaries surgically removed, the result is called surgical menopause. It comes on suddenly, instead of naturally over time. If you’re wondering how long does surgical menopause last, the answer may discourage you, although it varies from woman to woman. You can find ways to control the symptoms through awareness and lifestyle changes, but they may not disappear completely for years.
The Oophorectomy Procedure
Like most major surgeries, you’re given general anesthesia before the procedure to put you under. Once you’re unconscious and prepped on the operating table, your OBGYN likely performs a laparoscopic oophorectomy, which uses several small incisions in your abdomen to get at your ovaries. The laparoscope, a thin tube with a camera and a light on the end, is inserted in one of the small incisions to your ovaries.
Using the images from the camera, your gynecologist inserts the minimally invasive surgical tools to cut away one or both of your ovaries. They are then removed through a small incision. Whether your doctor removes one or both of your ovaries is a decision you’ll make together, ahead of time, based on your situation and condition.
Recovering from an Oophorectomy
After the procedure, you recover in bed for a few hours to a few days. It’s common to have an overnight stay before begin discharged to recover at home. Remember that you’ll need someone to drive you. As soon as you can when you awaken, your OBGYN will get you up and walking. While it may be a little uncomfortable or even painful at first, the activity will ultimately speed your recovery.
Once at home, you can recover more fully. Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. Some good advice for helping you recover quickly includes:
- Continue to walk a little bit every day. As your strength returns, increase your level of exercise. But no heavy lifting.
- Let your body heal. That means getting enough rest, drinking plenty of fluids (unless instructed not to) and eating healthy meals. Make sure you get enough fiber.
- If you feel constipated, don’t strain. Take a stool softener or a laxative as needed.
- Take the prescribed pain medication when you need it, especially for the first week. You can gradually wean yourself off the medication once the initial shock from the surgery has passed.
- Breathing exercises will keep you from contracting pneumonia.
- Support your abdomen when you feel a cough coming on. Press a pillow to your incisions when coughing and avoid, if possible, a coughing fit.
You can return to work in two to three weeks. You can resume your normal level of activities in about six weeks. Ask your OBGYN about having sex, although it’s wise to wait the full six weeks.
If at any time, you notice that your bandages are red with blood, contact your doctor immediately. Other emergency situations include:
- You’ve lost consciousness, especially when you were standing up.
- You are having trouble catching your breath.
- You feel new or worsening abdominal pain.
- You develop a fever.
- You notice red streaks coming from one of your incisions.
- Your incision is leaking pus or the stitches have come loose.
- Your legs are painful, red or swollen.
All symptoms should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by your gynecologist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to exclude any underlying serious condition. Oophorectomy procedure, indications, options and risks should always be discussed with your gynecologist.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult ob/gyn doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Oophorectomy, Ovary Removal procedure? Would like to schedule an appointment with the top Midtown NYC Gynecologist, Dr. Pedram Bral of Manhattan Women’s Health and Wellness, please contact our office for OBGYN consultation.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown)
New York, NY10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4575