An oophorectomy, or ovariectomy, is a surgical procedure to remove one or both of a person’s ovaries. Surgeons may use it to prevent or treat certain conditions, such as ovarian cancer or endometriosis.

The surgical removal of one ovary is a unilateral oophorectomy, while the removal of both ovaries is known as a bilateral oophorectomy.

This article discusses the types of oophorectomy, their treatment outcomes, and their recovery outlooks.

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An oophorectomy is the surgical removal of one or both ovaries.

Surgeons can perform an oophorectomy on its own or as part of a larger surgery to remove other pelvic structures, including the uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes.

There are different reasons for an oophorectomy, including:

People who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may be more likely to experience certain types of cancer and may choose to have an oophorectomy as a preventive measure.

Removing both ovaries means a person can no longer produce eggs. However, following a bilateral oophorectomy, a person may still carry a pregnancy with the help of a fertility doctor or the use of a surrogate to carry a pregnancy.

Those who wish to become pregnant or are considering pregnancy in the future without medical intervention should discuss alternative options to oophorectomy with a doctor.

Oophorectomy is a broad term for a medical procedure that removes one or both ovaries, but there are different types.

  • Unilateral oophorectomy: A surgeon will remove a single ovary and seek to preserve reproductive function.
  • Bilateral oophorectomy: This is the removal of both ovaries to prevent the spread of cancer and other disorders.
  • Prophylactic oophorectomy: This is a preventive measure that doctors often recommend for people with a high risk of ovarian cancer and other cancers. It involves the removal of both ovaries and usually the fallopian tubes before cancer develops.
  • Salpingo-oophorectomy: A salpingo-oophorectomy removes one or both fallopian tubes along with one or both ovaries.
  • Partial oophorectomy: This procedure removes part of one or both ovaries.

A person should always discuss what to expect during and after the surgery with a doctor.

A doctor may schedule several tests before the operation, including:

A surgeon will perform an oophorectomy by open abdominal surgery or laparoscopic surgery.

Open abdominal surgery

In open abdominal surgery, a surgeon makes an incision in the abdomen and then carefully separates the abdominal muscles.

The surgeon temporarily ties off the blood vessels to prevent bleeding. Finally, they will remove the ovary or ovaries and seal up the incision.

Learn more about open abdominal surgery here.

Laparoscopic surgery

During laparoscopic surgery, a surgeon inserts a thin, cord-like instrument into a small cut near the navel. A tiny camera allows the surgeon to see and remove one or both ovaries.

The process may leave less noticeable scars and require a shorter recovery time than open abdominal surgery.

Recovering from an oophorectomy will vary based on the type of surgery a person receives and their medical risk factors.

For example, open abdominal surgery, the more invasive surgery, will require a patient to stay in the hospital for 1–2 nights while laparoscopic patients may return home the day of surgery.

The doctor will advise on expected recovery times and often prescribe painkillers upon discharge. Most people will need to avoid lifting, driving, and strenuous activities or exercises for 2–6 weeks, depending on the invasiveness of the surgery.

Other general recovery tips include:

  • resting before surgery and during recovery
  • taking relaxed, deep breaths
  • making dietary changes and taking medications for constipation, as needed
  • avoiding infection risks, such as taking baths and wearing tight or synthetic clothing

Doctors will also instruct their patients on how to take care of their incision site, including regular cleaning, keeping the area dry, and monitoring it for signs of infection.

Oophorectomy procedures typically have positive outcomes. However, as with all surgical procedures, there is a risk of complications.

Surgical risks

The surgery itself also involves some risks, including:

  • damage to large blood vessels
  • damage to the urinary tract
  • infection
  • pain
  • bleeding
  • scar tissue
  • nerve damage
  • hernia due to weakened abdominal muscles

In rare cases, people may experience respiratory or cardiac problems after anesthesia.

Hormonal changes

People who undergo oophorectomy before they reach menopause will typically require hormone replacement therapy to maintain healthy levels of estrogen and other ovarian hormones.

However, hormone therapy has side effects, including mood swings, nausea, and headaches.

Learn more about hormone replacement therapy here.

Other risks

Bilateral oophorectomy may increase a person’s lifetime risk of several conditions, including:

Signs of complications

It is vital to report any signs of a complication to a doctor as soon as possible. These signs and symptoms include:

An oophorectomy can be a lifesaving procedure in many cases. Preventive bilateral oophorectomy reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer in people who are BRCA1 or BRCA2 carriers. An oophorectomy can also decrease mortality in those who receive an early breast cancer diagnosis.

However, people without cancer risk markers should thoroughly discuss their options with a doctor, as the surgery comes with some risks.

Following surgery, recovery time can vary. A person may want to consider having help at home for the first few days to assist them in tasks in and out of the home.

Open abdominal surgery will typically involve a longer recovery time than laparoscopic procedures. People who undergo bilateral oophorectomy may also require more recovery time than those who undergo unilateral removal.

Doctors can help people explore recovery options and give them more information about what symptoms to expect after an oophorectomy.

An oophorectomy is a surgical procedure to remove one or both of a person’s ovaries. Several different types of oophorectomies can help reduce cancer risk and treat other conditions, including endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease.

It may take 4–6 weeks for a person to fully recover from the procedure, but the overall outlook is positive.