Prophylactic ovary removal, also called prophylactic oophorectomy, is surgery to remove the ovaries and usually the fallopian tubes. The ovaries are egg-producing organs that also are the body’s main source of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus.
If you are considered “high risk” for breast and ovarian cancer, prophylactic ovary removal is one strategy you can think about to reduce your risk of these diseases. Being high risk usually means you have tested positive for an abnormality in genes known as BRCA1 or BRCA2. It also can mean having a strong family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or both.
Prophylactic ovary removal to reduce risk of breast cancer
Many studies show that prophylactic ovary removal reduces the risk of breast cancer among high-risk women. According to the National Cancer Institute, prophylactic ovary removal would reduce the number of new breast cancer cases among high-risk women by 50%. This benefit occurs only if the ovary removal is performed before menopause. Removing the ovaries before menopause significantly reduces the level of estrogen in a woman’s body. Because some breast cancers require estrogen to grow, removing the ovaries may slow or even stop the growth of breast cancer cells.
A 2008 study showed that the reduction in breast cancer risk after ovary removal is greater in women with the BRCA2 mutation.
Prophylactic ovary removal to reduce risk of ovarian cancer
Performed either before or after menopause, prophylactic ovary removal can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 90% in high-risk women, according to many studies. This is an important benefit because there are no reliable screening tests for ovarian cancer yet. Detecting ovarian cancer early is very difficult. For this reason, diagnosis is often made when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat.
A 2008 study showed that the reduction in ovarian cancer risk after ovary removal is greater in women with the BRCA1 mutation.
Combined prophylactic surgery to reduce risk of both breast and ovarian cancer
A small 2008 study in 12 women showed that having prophylactic ovary removal and prophylactic mastectomy at the same time was safe and successful. Seven years after surgery, none of the women developed a new cancer. Although more study is needed, combining the two surgeries can both reduce risk and allow a woman to avoid a second surgery and hospitalization. Read more about this study.