1 in 3 doctors still needlessly removing ovaries when performing hysterectomies

A new study from Baystate Medical Center found that one-third of gynecologists continue to recommend removal of healthy ovaries from women undergoing hysterectomies who haven’t yet entered menopause. This goes against recommendations of their own medical society, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which advises against ovary removal in pre-menopausal women undergoing hysterectomies who aren’t at increased risk of ovarian cancer.

That’s because the heart- and bone-protective benefits of maintaining functioning ovaries through menopause outweigh the smaller risks of future ovarian cancer incurred by keeping the organs.

“I think we must conclude that a more balanced view of the risks versus benefits of retaining the ovaries in pre-menopausal women would help doctors counsel their patients more effectively and accurately,” said study author Dr. Oz Harmanli, chief of urogynecology and pelvic surgery at Baystate.

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Every year, about 600,000 women get hysterectomies, making it the second most common surgery for women after Cesarean sections. The percentage of women having hysterectomies—often for benign but painful conditions such as fibroid growths or endometriosis—has remained pretty constant through the years. But most doctors have changed their practices to safeguard a woman’s health, by sparing the ovaries or opting for less invasive procedures that remove the uterus through the vagina.

For older postmenopausal women, however, removal of the ovaries to protect against ovarian cancer may be a smart option because they’re no longer getting the benefits of estrogen that had been released by their ovaries before menopause. Younger women who have previously had breast cancer or those with a family history of ovarian cancer might also benefit from ovary removal.

The results, published in the journal Menopause, were based on a survey of nearly 500 gynecologists nationwide.