An oophorectomy (pronounced “oh-uff-uh-RECK-tomy”) is the surgical removal of one or both ovaries. Oophorectomies can be performed alone, but they are often performed alongside a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or a salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes). This is because many diseases that affect the ovaries will also affect the surrounding tissue.
The ovaries are the small, round organs that lie on either side of the uterus, at the end of each fallopian tube. The ovaries hold a woman’s eggs and are also responsible for producing the hormones associated with menstruation and pregnancy: estrogen and progesterone.
Removal of one ovary is called a unilateral oophorectomy. Most patients will continue to menstruate and could conceive naturally following surgery. Removal of both ovaries is called a bilateral oophorectomy. Patients will no longer have periods and will enter early menopause.
What Conditions can Oophorectomies Treat?
Oophorectomies are performed as treatment for several different gynecological conditions, including:
- Ovarian cancer
- Noncancerous ovarian tumors
- Ovarian cysts
- Tubo-ovarian abscesses – pockets of pus that develop on the ovaries and fallopian tubes
- Ovarian torsion – a condition in which the ovary twists over itself
Patients who are at an increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer may choose to have an oophorectomy as a preventative measure.
Bilateral Oophorectomy and Gynecologic Health
A bilateral oophorectomy is the removal of both ovaries. Because the ovaries produce the hormone estrogen, removing them will bring the production of estrogen, and menstruation, to a halt.
After a bilateral oophorectomy, you will no longer be able to become pregnant naturally. You may be able to carry a baby with assisted reproductive technologies, such as egg donation and in-vitro fertilization. If you would still like to have children after your surgery, talk with your gynecologist about your options. You may be referred to a fertility specialist.
If you receive an oophorectomy before you’ve reached menopause, you will experience a condition called premature menopause.
The symptoms and complications of premature menopause include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness and painful intercourse
- Decreased libido
- Memory lapses
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Decreased bone density
You may be able to treat these symptoms with a low-dose hormone replacement therapy. Talk to your gynecologist about your concerns.
How is an Oophorectomy Performed?
This procedure involves one large incision in the lower abdomen. The surgeon will expose the pelvic organs and remove the ovaries and any other tissue through the incision.
In this procedure, the surgeon makes 3-4 tiny incisions in your abdomen, and inserts a slender, flexible camera to guide the surgery. The ovaries will be removed through the small incisions. Laparoscopic surgeries are less painful, and typically have shorter recovery times than open surgeries. However, they are not recommended for every patient. In some cases, the surgeon may start a laparoscopy, only to find that the procedure must be completed abdominally.
Robotic-assisted laparoscopic oophorectomy
This procedure is much the same as a laparoscopic oophorectomy, except the surgery is performed through a robotic assistant, operated by the surgeon with a hand controller.
You should plan to stay in the hospital for a few days following your oophorectomy. The length of your stay depends on the surgical method used and your risk for complication.
As soon as you are able, nursing staff will assist you in getting up and moving around after your surgery. This is to increase blood flow to your legs and prevent clotting. At any time during your recovery, you should call your doctor if you experience any signs of infection, such as fever or chills.
For an abdominal surgery, you should be able to return to your normal activities after about 6 weeks. For laparoscopic surgeries, many patients experience a full recovery within 2-3 weeks.