What is an oophorectomy?
An oophorectomy is when a surgeon removes one or both ovaries. The ovaries are the reproductive glands in women that make hormones to control the menstrual cycle and promote bone and heart health. Ovaries also contain and help grow eggs that can lead to pregnancy.
Why is an oophorectomy performed?
A surgeon may remove one or both of your ovaries for several reasons, including:
- A disease known as endometriosis, when cells from inside the womb (uterus) travel and grow elsewhere.
- Benign (non-cancerous) growths known as cysts.
- Preventative surgery for patients with a high risk of cancer of the breast or ovaries.
- Cancer of the ovary.
- A condition known as torsion of the ovary. This condition happens when the ovary twists around the blood supply, causing severe pain.
- An infection of the ovary or the area around it, also known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or a tubo-ovarian abscess (TOA).
What are the different types of oophorectomies?
Depending on the reason for your surgeon to remove an ovary, he or she may also recommend one of the following types of procedures:
- Unilateral oophorectomy: Removing one ovary (one side).
- Bilateral oophorectomy: Removing both ovaries (both sides).
- Salpingo-oophorectomy: Removing the ovary and fallopian tube—the small organ that helps guide eggs from the ovary to the uterus.
- Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: Removing both fallopian tubes and ovaries.
- Hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy: Removing the uterus (hysterectomy) at the same time as removing one or both tubes/ovaries.
How is an oophorectomy performed?
There are various ways a surgeon can remove an ovary. Each procedure carries its own risk and recovery time. Your physician will recommend the procedure best for your case.
- Laparoscopic approach: Considered a minimally invasive approach, the surgeon uses a small camera to look inside of your abdomen. The surgeon may make other small 1-2 cm incisions on your skin to allow removal of the ovary. Laparoscopic surgery has a smaller risk of infection and patients usually recover faster. In some cases, the surgeon may perform the surgery with the assistance of a robotic arm moving the instruments (while the surgeon guides them).
- Vaginal: This is also considered a minimally invasive approach, with a smaller risk of infection and faster recovery. Vaginal removal of ovaries is usually done at the same time the uterus is being removed through the vagina.
- Laparotomy: In some cases the surgeon decides that a longer incision is needed on your abdomen to complete the surgery. This incision is known as a laparotomy and your surgeon will tell you which type will be performed. Laparotomies, or bigger incisions, usually have a longer recovery time and higher risk of complications, although these are still low.
Risks / Benefits
What are the risks of an oophorectomy?
An oophorectomy, like any other surgery, carries some risks. These can include:
- More bleeding than expected
- Bad reaction to anesthesia
- Pain – both from surgery and possible ovarian cells left behind after surgery
- Blood clots
- Scar tissue
If you experience any of these after your surgery, please contact your doctor’s office.
How does an oophorectomy impact my chances of having children?
Removing one ovary will not significantly change your chances of becoming pregnant, assuming your other ovary and fallopian tube are working normally. Removing both tubes and ovaries will mean that the person will no longer be able to become pregnant on their own. Young women who are told they need to undergo removal of both tubes and ovaries should see an infertility doctor to talk about storing eggs before the procedure.
Will an oophorectomy cause menopause?
Ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, both of which help control the menstrual cycle. Removing both ovaries will cause menopause to begin immediately. It is important to be aware that this will happen before the procedure, and talk with your physician about possible alternatives if you are not done having children.
Even if you are no longer considering having children, it is important to be prepared for symptoms after surgery. In addition to no longer having periods, menopause can cause:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Memory loss
- Loss of sexual drive
- Memory problems
Your physician may treat you with hormone replacement, depending on why the ovaries were removed.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the recovery period after having an oophorectomy?
If your surgeon performs your surgery using laparoscopy or a vaginal approach, you may be able to leave the hospital the same day. Patients who have a larger incision (laparotomy) spend between two to four days in the hospital.
Patients are usually told to start walking the same day of their surgery and are able to eat and drink regular foods. Once home, patients are told to hold off from heavy lifting or exercise for a number of weeks. Before leaving the hospital, you will be told how to clean and care for your incision sites.
Your surgeon will tell you what pain medication you can take. Call your surgeon immediately if you have too much pain or bleeding.
What is the long-term outlook for someone who has had an oophorectomy?
Most women are able to resume their normal daily lives two to six weeks after surgery. Hormone replacement therapy can help those who have undergone a bilateral oophorectomy deal with symptoms caused by menopause.
What resources are available for those going through an oophorectomy?
An oophorectomy can be a scary procedure, especially if you are not done having children or are worried about menopause.
For this reason, it is important to work with a team of doctors who will recommend the best type of surgery for your condition—and also deal with the after-effects of an oophorectomy.
The Cleveland Clinic Center for Women’s Health and Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and fertility specialists can provide more information and advice on oophorectomies.