Conference Coverage

In hysterectomy, consider wider risks of ovary removal



– While it’s fading in popularity, ovary removal in hysterectomy is still far from uncommon. A gynecologic surgeon urged colleagues to give deeper consideration to whether the ovaries can stay in place.

“Gynecologists should truly familiarize themselves with the data on cardiovascular, endocrine, bone, and sexual health implications of removing the ovaries when there isn’t a medical indication to do so,” Amanda Nickles Fader, MD, director of the Kelly gynecologic oncology service and the director of the center for rare gynecologic cancers at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, said in an interview following her presentation at the Pelvic Anatomy and Gynecologic Surgery Symposium.

“Until I started giving this talk, I thought I knew this data. However, once I took a deeper dive into the studies of how hormonally active the postmenopausal ovaries are, as well as the population-based studies demonstrating worse all-cause mortality outcomes in low-risk women who have their ovaries surgically removed prior to their 60s, I was stunned at how compelling this data is,” she said.

The conventional wisdom about ovary removal in hysterectomy has changed dramatically over the decades. As Dr. Nickles Fader explained in the interview, “in the ’80s and early ’90s, the mantra was ‘just take everything out’ at hysterectomy surgery – tubes and ovaries should be removed – without understanding the implications. Then in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it was a more selective strategy of ‘wait until menopause to remove the ovaries.’ ”

Now, “more contemporary data suggests that the ovaries appear to be hormonally active to some degree well into the seventh decade of life, and even women in their early 60s who have their ovaries removed without a medical indication may be harmed.”

Still, ovary removal occurs in about 50%-60% of the 450,000-500,000 hysterectomies performed each year in the United States, Dr. Nickles Fader said at the meeting, which was jointly provided by Global Academy for Medical Education and the University of Cincinnati. Global Academy and this news organization are owned by the same company.

These findings seem to suggest that messages about the potential benefits of ovary preservation are not getting through to surgeons and patients.

Indeed, a 2017 study of 57,776 benign premenopausal hysterectomies with ovary removal in California from 2005 to 2011 found that 38% had no documented sign of an appropriate diagnosis signaling a need for oophorectomy. These included “ovarian cyst, breast cancer susceptibility gene carrier status, and other diagnoses,” the study authors wrote (Menopause. 2017 Aug;24[8]:947-53).

Dr. Nickles Fader emphasized that ovary removal is appropriate in cases of gynecologic malignancy, while patients at high genetic risk of ovarian cancer may consider salpingo-oophorectomy or salpingectomy.

What about other situations? She offered these pearls in the presentation:

  • Don’t remove ovaries before age 60 “without a good reason” because the procedure may lower lifespan and increase cardiovascular risk.
  • Ovary removal is linked to cognitive decline, Parkinson’s disease, depression and anxiety, glaucoma, sexual dysfunction, and bone fractures.
  • Ovary preservation, in contrast, is linked to improvement of menopausal symptoms, sleep quality, urogenital atrophy, skin conditions, and metabolism.
  • Fallopian tubes may be the true trouble area. “The prevailing theory amongst scientists and clinicians is that ‘ovarian cancer’ is in most cases a misnomer, and most of these malignancies start in the fallopian tube,” Dr. Nickles Fader said in the interview.

“It’s a better time than ever to be thoughtful about removing a woman’s ovaries in someone who is at low risk for ovarian cancer. The new, universal guideline is that instead of removing ovaries in most women undergoing hysterectomy, it’s quite important to consider removing just the fallopian tubes to best optimize cancer risk reduction and general health outcomes.”

Dr. Nickles Fader disclosed consulting work for Ethicon and Merck.

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