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Removal of Ovaries in Ovarian Cysts Sufferers: Pros And Cons

Oophorectomy is the surgical removal of ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for storing and releasing eggs for fertilization and producing female sex hormones. Removal of ovaries is often a necessary part of the treatment in pelvic diseases such as ovarian cancer or severe endometriosis. In the United States alone, more than 600,000 hysterectomies (the surgical removal of the uterus) are performed each year. About half of these involve removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, too.

Removal Of Ovaries

Oophorectomy may also be recommended when the hormones produced by the ovaries cause diseases such as breast cancer or endometriosis to worsen. In some cases, the ovaries are removed in an attempt to reduce the possibility of developing ovarian cancer in the future. This is called a prophylactic oophorectomy. Women with certain abnormal genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) have a heightened risk of developing ovarian cancer. The hormones produced by women with these genes also increase the risk of breast cancer. In these cases removal of the ovaries considerably reduces the chances of developing these cancers.

On the other hand, removal of ovaries of women with no discernible risk is fraught with danger. Oophorectomy before a woman's natural age of menopause may increase the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and even dementia along with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Premenopausal women who have their ovaries removed are often put on estrogen replacement therapy, but it is not clear if hormone treatment is as beneficial as ovary retention. The ovaries continue to produce hormones even after menopause that may be protective against many diseases. If there is no increased risk of ovarian cancer or another disease that requires the removal of the ovaries, the benefits of keeping them far outweigh the risks of keeping them.

For women at high risk of ovarian cancer, including those with a strong family history of the disease and those with a genetic predisposition to get the cancer, the benefits of ovary removal are clear. But for the vast majority of women who do not have these risks, removal of the ovaries during hysterectomy is not justified. Most gynecologists do not recommend the routine removal of ovaries in women under the age 40-45. Removal of healthy ovaries at any age requires an adequate informed consent.

The ovaries, at all stages of a woman's life, produce many poorly understood hormones which cannot always be replaced. Hence unless the disease is life-threatening, it is advisable to retain the ovaries or at least one of them. This is where holistic medicine is of great help. It does not concern itself with symptoms but approaches the body as a whole. This brings about a sense of well-being and return of health.               

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