Surgery - Oophorectomy

Oophorectomy is a surgical procedure where the ovaries are removed. It is also called ovarian ablation. The ovaries are 2 small glands that are part of the reproductive system. They produce eggs and the hormones estrogen and progesterone.1

Many breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive (HR+). This means these cancers have receptors for hormones on the surface of their cells. When certain hormones attach to these receptors, it can fuel cancer’s growth.

What is an oophorectomy?

An oophorectomy may be performed as an open procedure or as a laparoscopic procedure. In an open procedure, 1 incision is made across the lower abdomen to remove both ovaries.2

A laparoscopic procedure is a minimally invasive procedure in which 3 or 4 small incisions are made into the abdomen. Instruments are placed through these incisions, including a lighted camera and surgical tools. The ovaries are removed through 1 of the small incisions.2

In some cases, a laparoscopic oophorectomy is performed using robotic assistance. Minimally invasive procedures generally cause less pain and have faster recovery times. However, not everyone is a good candidate for this type of procedure.2

How does an oophorectomy help manage breast cancer?

An oophorectomy may be used in premenopausal people who have HR+ breast cancer, especially those who cannot tolerate or do not want treatment with chemotherapy. Removing the ovaries significantly reduces the amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body. In turn, this takes away that fuel for breast cancer cells.3,4

Oophorectomy may also be used to reduce the risk of breast cancer in those who are at high risk of the disease. This includes people with a known BRCA genetic mutation. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations also increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Oophorectomy can reduce this risk as well.3,4

What are the possible side effects of an oophorectomy?

Removal of the ovaries immediately puts the body into menopause. This can cause side effects like:2

The removal of the ovaries means a person no longer has the possibility of being able to conceive a child naturally.2

As with any surgical procedure, an oophorectomy also has risks of:2

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Damage to nearby tissues or organs

These are not all the possible side effects of an oophorectomy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with an oophorectomy.

Things to know about an oophorectomy

Oophorectomy is typically performed in a hospital under general anesthesia. You may need to stop eating or taking certain medicines before surgery. Recovery varies from person to person. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for a few days after the surgery.2

Since an oophorectomy impacts the ability to have biological children in the future, you may want to discuss options for preserving your fertility with your doctor before surgery.2

Oophorectomy may not be the right option for all people with HR+ breast cancer. Other options may include:3,4

  • Chemotherapy, which often causes menstruation to stop and may induce menopause
  • Hormone therapy with luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists, which blocks hormones released by the pituitary gland that trigger the ovaries to produce estrogen
  • Hormone therapy with an anti-estrogen like tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen receptors

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2021