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Special populations: Premenopausal women who are not at increased risk of ovarian cancer
Removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes prevents ovarian cancer, but it may come with other health risks. Experts recommend removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes in women at high risk for ovarian cancer due to inherited mutations in BRCA or other genes linked to ovarian cancer risk. For these high-risk women the benefit of ovarian cancer prevention outweighs the risk of long-term complications. Based on a recent study, some researchers feel that for women who are not at increased risk for cancer, the risk for some chronic conditions is too high to consider removal of both ovaries. (11/1/16)
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Whether there is a connection between women who had their ovaries removed before age 50 and an increased risk of common chronic conditions, such as depression, asthma, coronary artery disease, and osteoporosis.
Researchers want to better understand the risks and benefits of ovary removal before age 50. Preventing ovarian cancer is a benefit of this procedure. However, ovaries produce hormones and removing ovaries at a young age can increase the risk for other diseases. Women need to understand the benefits and risks of ovary removal in order to make informed decision about the procedure. For women with an average chance for developing ovarian cancer, the risks that result from losing these sex hormones may not outweigh the benefit.
While the results of this study suggest that having ovaries removed before age 50 may increase a woman’s risk of some chronic conditions, it is important to note that the women in this study were not at increased risk for ovarian cancer. Generally, more work needs to be done to confirm and understand these findings. Women should work with their health care providers to weigh their personal risks for ovarian cancer and determine whether or not they want to remove their ovaries, and if so, at what age.
Women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 meet national guidelines for genetic counseling and testing to see if they have an inherited mutation that increases breast and/or ovarian cancer risk. These guidelines recommend removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes for women who have a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Women with mutations in BRIP1, RAD51c, RAD51d, and the genes associated with Lynch syndrome should consider removal of their ovaries.
Ovarian Cancer News Today
There are differing opinions on whether or not women with average (1.5%) lifetime risk of ovarian cancer should have oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) before menopause. Oophorectomy is recommended for women with a high (up to 50% lifetime risk) likelihood of developing ovarian cancer due to a mutation in BRCA1, BRCA2 or other gene associated with increased ovarian cancer risk, because the benefit of cancer prevention far outweighs the chance of other health problems. However, some women have their ovaries removed for other reasons. For example, women undergoing hysterectomy (removal of their uterus) for other reasons will sometimes have their ovaries removed at the same time. For many years, experts debated whether women with an average risk of ovarian cancer benefit from removing their ovaries, or if the risk of other complications is too high. Previous research from the same team found that “for most women without a cancer indication, the long-term risks of bilateral oophorectomy performed before menopause are greater than the benefits.” However, others have argued more research is needed.
Walter Rocca and colleagues from Mayo Clinic published work in 2016 in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings that provides more data on risks of oophorectomy before menopause.
Does removing ovaries before age 50 increase a woman’s risk of common chronic conditions associated with aging?
This study followed 1,653 women with intact ovaries and 1,653 women who had both ovaries removed before age 50 for about 14 years (some women were followed for a longer period and some for a shorter period). The oophorectomies were performed between January 1, 1988 and December 31, 2007. Study participants who had their ovaries removed did so while also having their uterus removed (hysterectomy) for reasons other than cancer treatment or managing cancer risk. Women who had their ovaries removed to help treat breast cancer or reduce their high genetic risk of cancer due to a mutation in BRCA were excluded from this study.
It is very important to note that this study looked only at women with an average risk for ovarian cancer; it did not include women with increased risk of ovarian cancer (such as BRCA mutation carriers) or women who had their ovaries removed to reduce their risk of breast cancer. As such, these findings do not apply to these women where the benefits likely outweigh the risks.
The study had other limitations as well. The authors acknowledge a potential underestimation of some of the conditions that they looked at because some participants may not have had symptoms or did not request medical attention. Additionally, the researchers recognize that there may be a surveillance bias—the women who had their ovaries removed may have more contact with their health care providers after their surgery. Finally, some of the women in this study had their ovaries removed about 20 years ago when the surgeries and estrogen therapies were different.
This study suggests that having an oophorectomy before age 50 may increase a woman’s risk of some chronic conditions, including heart disease, lung disease, coronary artery disease, anxiety, and depression. There are many reasons women with breast cancer or high risk for breast cancer may consider removal of their ovaries, such as reduction of breast cancer risk, treatment for ER/PR-positive breast cancer, and reduction of ovarian cancer risk associated with inherited mutations. All women should discuss the risks and benefits of oophorectomy with their health care providers to determine which choice is best for them.
It is important to remember that national guidelines recommend removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes after completion of childbearing for women with mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with mutations in BRIP1, RAD51c, RAD51d, and the genes associated with Lynch syndrome are advised to consider removing their ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce their ovarian cancer risk. Women with inherited mutations in these genes or who are undergoing oophorectomy for other indications should be told of the long-term risks of ovary removal, but reminded that the benefits of preventing ovarian cancer far outweigh the risks of long-term complications.
Women at average risk of ovarian cancer should speak to their health care provider about considering risk when presented with the option to remove their ovaries.
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FORCE Information: Ovarian & Related Cancer Risk
FORCE Information: Surgical Removal of Ovaries & Fallopian Tubes
FORCE Information: Menopause
FORCE Videos: Long Term Consequences of Menopause: Heart, Bone, Memory
FORCE Videos: Menopause With and Without Hormones
Rocca WA, Gazzuola-Rocca, L, Smith CY, et al, “Accelerated Accumulation of Multimorbidity After Bilateral Oophrectomy: A Population-Based Cohort Study.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Published online first in 2016.