Risks of a Life-Saving Surgery for Women

Oophorectomy linked to osteoporosis and arthritis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Women at risk of ovarian cancer are sometimes encouraged to get their ovaries removed. While ovary removal surgery can save a woman's life, it also may raise the risk of other health problems.

Women who had their ovaries removed before the age of 45 were more likely than those who still had ovaries to have low bone mineral density, an early sign of osteoporosis. Women who had their ovaries removed also had a higher risk of developing arthritis.

"Talk to your doctor about the risks of ovary removal surgery."

There are certain genetic mutations that put women at risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. In order to reduce the risk of cancer and lengthen survival, women with these mutations are often encouraged to undergo oophorectomy (a surgery in which the ovaries are removed) before they reach age 40.

Yet, oophorectomy before age 45 has already been linked to osteoporosis. Considering the ovaries are a source of important hormones for women, the removal of these organs is likely to have a notable effect on a woman.

Anne Marie McCarthy, Sc.M., a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Kala Visvanathan, M.D., M.H.S., associate professor at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, set out to see if bilateral oophorectormy (removal of both ovaries) had an effect on bone mineral density.

The researchers found that women who had both ovaries removed before age 45 and who never used hormone replacement therapy had a lower bone mineral density in their neck bones, compared to those who still had their ovaries. Women who had undergone oophorectomy were also more likely to develop osteoporosis.

What's more, women with both ovaries removed had a higher risk of arthritis, especially if they never used hormone replacement therapy.

More than 45 percent of women who had oophorectomy reported being diagnosed with arthritis, compared to 32.1 percent of women with their ovaries still intact.

Doctors need to be aware of these potential risks so they can intervene if needed, says McCarthy.

"[The study] highlights the need for more research in this area to identify those women at risk and to determine appropriate screening preventive strategies for these young women," she concludes.

For their cross-sectional study, McCarthy and Dr. Visvanathan examined data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). For the bone mineral density portion of their study, they looked at data from 3,660 women. The arthritis portion of the study used data from 4,039 women.

The study's results were presented at the 2011 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, sponsored by the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the American Association for Cancer Research, and Baylor College of Medicine. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 29, 2011
Last Updated:
December 30, 2011