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What is an Oophorectomy?

19th April 2021 by Claire O'Donnell


An Oophorectomy is a surgical procedure to remove one or both of your ovaries. Your ovaries sit on each side of the uterus in your pelvis. Your ovaries contain eggs and produce hormones that control your menstrual cycle.


When an oophorectomy involves removing both ovaries, it's called bilateral oophorectomy. When the surgery involves removing only one ovary, it's called unilateral oophorectomy.  An oophorectomy can also be done as part of an operation to remove the uterus (hysterectomy).


Ovarian shutdown with medication or surgical removal is only for premenopausal women.  In premenopausal women, most of the estrogen in the body is made by the ovaries and because estrogen makes hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers grow, reducing the amount of estrogen in the body or stopping its action can help .


In some cases, the ovaries (and usually the fallopian tubes) may be surgically removed to treat hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer or as a risk-reduction measure for women at very high risk of breast cancer. This is called a prophylactic oophorectomy. 


Removing the ovaries is one way to permanently stop the ovaries from producing estrogen.  Medicines also can be used to temporarily stop the ovaries from making estrogen (medical shutdown). 


Two of the most common shutdown medicines are: Zoladex (goserelin) and Leuprorelin (Prostap, Lutrate).  These medicines work by telling the brain to stop the ovaries from making estrogen. The medicines are given as injections once a month for several months or every few months. Once you stop taking the medicine, the ovaries begin working again. 

Women who want to have children may prefer medical shutdown of the ovaries over surgical ovary removal.

Secondary breast cancer patients who are pre-menopausal who want to end the medical shutdown, can ask their medical team about an Oophorectomy to help with their long-term treatment.  Deciding to have your ovaries surgically removed requires a lot of careful thought and discussion with your medical team.