Unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is the surgical removal of a fallopian tube and an ovary. If both sets of fallopian tubes and ovaries are removed, the procedure is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.
This surgery is performed to treat ovarian or other gynecological cancers, or infections caused by pelvic inflammatory disease. Occasionally, removal of one or both ovaries may be done to treat endometriosis, a condition in which the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus (usually on and around the pelvic organs). The procedure may also be performed if a woman has been diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy in a fallopian tube and a salpingostomy (an incision into the fallopian tube to remove the pregnancy) cannot be done. If only one fallopian tube and ovary are removed, the woman may still be able to conceive and carry a pregnancy to term. If both are removed, however, the woman is rendered permanently infertile. This procedure is commonly combined with a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus); the ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed in about one-third of hysterectomies.
Until the 1980s, women over age 40 having hysterectomies routinely had healthy ovaries and fallopian tubes removed at the same time. Many physicians reasoned that a woman over 40 was approaching menopause and soon her ovaries would stop secreting estrogen and releasing eggs. Removing the ovaries would eliminate the risk of ovarian cancer and only accelerate menopause by a few years.
In the 1990s, the thinking about routine salpingooophorectomy began to change. The risk of ovarian cancer in women who have no family history of the disease is less than 1%. Moreover, removing the ovaries increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and accelerates osteoporosis unless a woman takes prescribed hormone replacements.
Overall, ovarian cancer accounts for only 4% of all cancers in women. For women at increased risk, oophorectomy may be considered after the age of 35 if childbearing is complete. Factors that increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer include age (most ovarian cancers occur after menopause), the presence of a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, the number of menstrual periods a woman has had (affected by age of onset, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and oral contraceptive use), history of breast cancer, diet, and family history. The incidence of ovarian cancer is highest among American Indian (17.5 cases per 100,000 population), Caucasian (15.8 per 100,000), Vietnamese (13.8 per 100,000), Caucasian Hispanic (12.1 per 100,000), and Hawaiian (11.8 per 100,000) women; it is lowest among Korean (7.0 per 100,000) and Chinese (9.3 per 100,000) women. African American women have an ovarian cancer incidence of 10.2 per 100,000 population.
Endometriosis, another reason why salpingooophorectomy may be performed, has been estimated to affect up to 10% of women. Approximately four out of every 1,000 women are hospitalized as a result of endometriosis each year. Women 25–35 years of age are affected most, with 27 being the average age of diagnosis.
General or regional anesthesia will be given to the patient before the procedure begins. If the procedure is
If a laparoscope is not used, the surgery involves an incision 4–6 in (10–15 cm) long into the abdomen extending either vertically up from the pubic bone toward the navel, or horizontally (the "bikini incision") across the pubic hairline. The scar from a bikini incision is less noticeable, but some surgeons prefer the vertical incision because it provides greater visibility while operating. A disadvantage to abdominal salpingo-oophorectomy is that bleeding is more likely to be a complication of this type of operation. The procedure is more painful than a laparoscopic operation and the recovery period is longer. A woman can expect to be in the hospital two to five days and will need three to six weeks to return to normal activities.
Before surgery, the doctor will order blood and urine tests, and any additional tests such as ultrasound or x rays to help the surgeon visualize the woman's condition. The woman may also meet with the anesthesiologist to evaluate any special conditions that might affect the administration of anesthesia. A colon preparation may be done, if extensive surgery is anticipated.
On the evening before the operation, the woman should eat a light dinner, then take nothing by mouth, including water or other liquids, after midnight.
If performed through an abdominal incision, salpingo-oophorectomy is major surgery that requires three to six weeks for full recovery. However, if performed laparoscopically, the recovery time can be much shorter. There may be some discomfort around the incision for the first few days after surgery, but most women are walking around by the third day. Within a month or so, patients can gradually resume normal activities such as driving, exercising, and working.
Immediately following the operation, the patient should avoid sharply flexing the thighs or the knees. Persistent back pain or bloody or scanty urine indicates that a ureter may have been injured during surgery.
If both ovaries are removed in a premenopausal woman as part of the operation, the sudden loss of estrogen will trigger an abrupt premature menopause that may involve severe symptoms of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and loss of sex drive. (This is also called "surgical menopause.") In addition to these symptoms, women who lose both ovaries also lose the protection these hormones provide against heart disease and osteoporosis many years earlier than if they had experienced natural menopause. Women who have had their ovaries removed are seven times more likely to develop coronary heart disease and much more likely to develop bone problems at an early age than are premenopausal women whose ovaries are intact. For these reasons, some form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be prescribed to relieve the symptoms of surgical menopause and to help prevent heart and bone disease.
Reaction to the removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries depends on a wide variety of factors, including the woman's age, the condition that required the surgery, her reproductive history, how much social support she has, and any previous history of depression. Women who have had many gynecological surgeries or chronic pelvic pain seem to have a higher tendency to develop psychological problems after the surgery.
Major surgery always involves some risk, including infection, reactions to the anesthesia, hemorrhage, and scars at the incision site. Almost all pelvic surgery causes some internal scars, which in some cases can cause discomfort years after surgery.
Potential complications after a salpingo-oophorectomy include changes in sex drive, hot flashes, and other symptoms of menopause if both ovaries are removed. Women who have both ovaries removed and who do not take estrogen replacement therapy run an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Women with a history of psychological and emotional problems before an oophorectomy are more likely to experience psychological difficulties after the operation.
If the surgery is successful, the fallopian tubes and ovaries will be removed without complication, and the underlying problem resolved. In the case of cancer, all the cancer will be removed. A woman will become infertile following a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.
Studies have shown that the complication rate following salpingo-oophorectomy is essentially the same as that following hysterectomy. The rate of complications differs by the type of hysterectomy performed. Abdominal hysterectomy is associated with a higher rate of complications (9.3%), while the overall complication rate for vaginal hysterectomy is 5.3%, and 3.6% for laparoscopic vaginal hysterectomy. The risk of death is about one in every 1,000 (1/1,000) women having a hysterectomy. The rates of some of the more commonly reported complications are:
Because of the cessation of hormone production that occurs with a bilateral oophorectomy, women who lose both ovaries also prematurely lose the protection these hormones provide against heart disease and osteoporosis. Women who have undergone bilateral oophorectomy are seven times more likely to develop coronary heart disease and much more likely to develop bone problems at an early age than are premenopausal women whose ovaries are intact.
Depending on the specific condition that warrants an oophorectomy, it may be possible to modify the surgery so at least a portion of one ovary remains, allowing the woman to avoid early menopause. In the case of endometriosis, there are a number of alternative treatments that are usually pursued before a salpingooophorectomy (with or without hysterectomy) is performed. These include excising the growths without removing any organs, blocking or destroying the nerves that provide sensation to some of the pelvic structures, or prescribing drugs that decrease estrogen levels.
Kauff, N. D., J. M. Satagopan, M. E. Robson, et al. "Risk-Reducing Salpingo-oophorectomy in Women with a BRC1 or BRC2 Mutation." New England Journal of Medicine 346 (May 23, 2002): 1609–15.
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American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 409 12th St., SW, PO Box 96920, Washington, DC 20090-6920. http://www.acog.org .
Midlife Women's Network. 5129 Logan Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55419. (800) 886-4354.
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Carol A. Turkington Stephanie Dionne Sherk
Salpingo-oophorectomies are usually performed in a hospital operating room by a gynecologist, a medical doctor who has completed specialized training in the areas of women's general health, pregnancy, labor and childbirth, prenatal testing, and genetics.