Hysterectomies and your health: It might be safer to keep your ovaries

For decades, doctors have advised hysterectomy patients to also have their ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer later in life. New research may call on doctors to rethink this practice, however, revealing that women who have their healthy ovaries removed along with their uterus have a higher risk of dying from lung cancer and coronary heart disease.

The incidence of having and dying from ovarian cancer is relatively low, adding up to about 3% of all cancers and 1% of deaths of women. However, the difficulty in detecting and treating ovarian cancer has led to the precautionary procedure.  There are 600,000 hysterectomies performed in the United States each year, and about half those women opt to have their healthy ovaries removed.

The study assessed the rate hysterectomy and ovary removal patients developed or died as a result of ovarian cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and other cancers. They also analyzed the incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, hip fracture, pulmonary embolism, and death from other causes.

The authors of the study, which will be published in next month’s Obstetrics & Gynecology journal, recommend that fewer women make this choice. Their findings show that the risk for ovarian and breast cancer do go down, but the risk for other medical complications goes up significantly. The study reveals that the women under the age of 50 who had ovary removal were twice as likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, and had a 40% higher risk of death.

William Parker, lead author of the study, outlined when ovary removal may be appropriate, according to the findings.

“Certainly, women with a strong family history of ovarian cancer, or women who know they carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that greatly increase their risk of ovarian and breast cancer, should strongly consider having their ovaries removed.”

Opting out may be wise for those women who have a family history of heart disease or stroke, he noted, saying, “maybe keeping your ovaries makes sense.”

Obviously, the researchers recommend discussing all of your options with your physician while experts weighing in on the findings said they were important in assessing quality of life and health for pre-menopausal women.

Have you had a hysterectomy? What are your experiences with living healthfully if you’ve had the surgery?