There are many reasons your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your ovaries. Some women with a gene called BRCA, the most common gene for breast and ovarian cancers, may choose surgery to help lessen their risk of getting cancer. Other women may have the operation to treat cancer. Problems like ovarian cysts, abscesses, benign tumors, or endometriosis are also conditions that may need this surgery.
What Happens During Surgery?
Depending on the medical condition you’re treated for, you may just have one ovary removed, both ovaries removed, or both ovaries removed as well as your fallopian tubes. Sometimes, surgery to remove the ovaries is also performed during hysterectomy, or the surgical removal of the uterus.
Usually, surgery to remove ovaries requires general anesthesia, so you will not be awake.
But, in some cases, local anesthesia may be used. That means only the area being worked on is numbed.
There are a few ways the surgery can be performed, and the method your doctor chooses depends on your particular situation.
An “open” procedure is the traditional way to perform the surgery.
Using this method, your doctor will make one large incision, or cut, in your belly. This will allow him to see your ovaries, to separate each one from other tissues and the arteries that supply blood, and then remove them.
Another method is called laparoscopic surgery.
Your surgeon will insert a small camera, which is called a laparoscope, through a tiny cut in your belly button. She will then be able to see your ovaries, since this camera sends images to a monitor, just like a TV or computer screen. The doctor will also make several other small cuts, as necessary, in your belly, with special surgical tools.
The ovaries are then removed through a small incision in your belly or vagina.
Your doctor may even be assisted by a robotic device during a laparoscopic procedure.
In robotic-assisted ovary removal, your doctor makes several small incisions to put the robot’s camera and specialized instruments in place so the ovaries and other organs can be seen. Your doctor, who is always in control of the robotic device, will then use the robot’s specialized instrument arms to remove the ovaries.
How Long Do I Have to Stay In the Hospital?
If your doctor performs an open procedure to remove your ovaries, you can expect to stay in the hospital longer than if you have a laparoscopic or robot-assisted operation. For those procedures, you are generally released from the hospital the same day. But how long you stay in the hospital depends on many things.
Also, in some cases, you doctor may begin to remove your ovaries using a laparoscopic technique, but once she sees what is happening inside, may have to change to an open procedure to treat your condition.
Your doctor will give you instructions about your return to an active lifestyle. But, in general, how quickly you can return to normal activities depends on your overall medical condition before surgery, the reason for your surgery, and the way your surgery was done. Most women return to an active life about 6 weeks after surgery. Women who had laparoscopic surgery or robot-assisted surgery generally have quicker recoveries of about 2 weeks.
During surgery, there may be a risk of too much bleeding. This is usually fixed by blood transfusions. There could also be damage to surrounding organs like the bladder or bowel. This is rare and happens in less than 1% of all cases.
Several days, or even several weeks after surgery, you may get an infection, which could cause a fever or redness and pain near your incision, for example. Or, you could develop a hernia, which is a weakness in the muscle near the incision.
There are risks with all surgical procedures, and your doctor will discuss these risks with you before your surgery. But removal of your ovaries is usually considered a safe procedure. Always remember that if your doctor advises you to have this surgery it means the benefits outweigh the risks.
What About Fertility and Menopause?
Your ovaries make estrogen. When your body stops making estrogen naturally, usually at about age 51, menopause begins. If you have not yet reached natural menopause and have surgery to remove your ovaries, you will have what is called “surgical” menopause.
It will depend on your situation. For example, if only one ovary is removed, the remaining ovary will probably still produce estrogen. And you will still have a menstrual cycle and be able to become pregnant.
And there are other methods to help you with fertility. Make sure you talk to your doctor about all your options.