Monday, April 19, 2010

Evidence Ignored by Doctors Removing Women's Ovaries

I have been deeply affected by the comments of women in response to my last blog about hysterectomy. Their lives have been devastated by--what should I call them? Ignorant? Arrogant? Unethical? Unprofessional? All of these?--doctors who continue to remove healthy ovaries from women in the face of evidence that they are causing irreparable harm to their patients.

Spurred by these comments, and by my need to prepare to attend the HERS Hysterectomy Conference this coming Saturday, I did some research and found a smoking gun right on the website of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It's an August, 2005 article (scroll down the search page to the 7th article) that appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. Apparently, it's not required reading for the practicing physicians who continue to castrate women.

Called "Ovarian Conservation at the Time of Hysterectomy for Benign Disease," it takes a comprehensive look at the risks and benefits of removing a woman's ovaries at the same time that she has a hysterectomy for non-cancerous problems like fibroids and heavy bleeding. As far as I can tell at this point, it appears to be one of the latest investigations of the issue, which, despite its importance to women, has not been the subject of much research at all.

Here are some of the conclusions:
  • At no age is there any clear benefit to women from removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy).
  • "For women younger than 65 at the time of surgery, oophorectomy increases the risk of dying from coronary heart disease."
  • Evidence from the Nurses' Health Study says that the risk of heart attack was doubled if the women in question were between 40 and 44 years old; and up 40% if the women were older than 50.
  • After losing their ovaries, women have higher bad cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure and more hardening of the arteries.
  • Women who were past menopause when they had an oophorectomy ended up with 54% more bone fractures due to osteporosis than women with intact ovaries.
  • The fractures often were of the hip, and having a hip fracture between ages 60 and 64 meant dying early--a loss of 11 years of life!
  • It also means that many of those women could never leave their homes again on their own. One study found that before breaking a hip, 28 percent of the women were housebound; after the fracture, 46 percent were housebound.
So why do doctors continue to castrate women?

I certainly have no satisfactory answer to that.

But some, apparently, believe that the overriding benefit is to reduce a woman's chance of getting ovarian cancer. But this study notes that removal of the uterus alone lowers the risk of ovarian cancer by 40% below the level of women who retain their uterus.

So, let's see: since men have a risk of testicular cancer, should doctors be removing their testicles just in case? Or treating them with female hormones to reduce the risk of prostate cancer?

We women know that would never happen. Men prize their virility and do everything to keep it. Women prize their sexuality, too, but consent to hysterectomy and oopherectomy too often without realizing what they will be giving up. Thus the need for the HERS Foundation video and consent only after seeing it.

So, is it ignorance of the facts that keeps doctors castrating women? Or what? Theories--and certainly facts--welcome.


Cathy said...

Frances, when I learned I had benign ovarian cysts, I wanted the cysts removed, but all the doctor offered me was to remove my ovaries, uterus and cervix. He became very agitated when I refused. He became more angry when I demanded that all my organs be saved, and consequently hysterectomized and castrated me. Afterwards, when I looked at my insurance records, it was clear that this doctor tried to bill twice for amputating all my organs. He billed for amputating my uterus and cervix and again for the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Clearly he thought he should be paid double. It seems partly to be about money, but he was also very angry that I wanted to keep my organs. He talked to me in a demeaning way, and I was put under anesthesia without my knowledge. Is it money, and power? I think these gynecologists are some sick and depraved individuals. They know they are harming women right while they are doing it. How else can you describe it?

Thank you for continuing this subject. You are right on, and as one of the other posters said, the more you delve into it, the more shocking it becomes.

TQ said...

After 12 years of living post-hysterectomy, it appears to be a number of reasons that doctors perform this surgery. The obvious of power, control, money, and sexism. The not-so-obvious perversion of having devised a web of explanations to reduce this destructive surgery down to benign sterilization or salvation from the ravages of cancer, at least on the surface.

The fact that this society has placed doctors as the judge, jury, and executioner where "health" matters are concerned - leaving no room for real choice, or to be fully informed, or any real guarantees. The response of hysterectomy is imbalanced to the conditions for which it is designed to supposedly treat.

For the choice that was taken from me, I live each day with the financial burden, the social burden, the health burden created by being hysterectomized. Today, I will be sitting for my annual review, I don't expect it to be good, but I am condemed to face another day of humiliation as well as all the days since the fateful day of becoming another amongst the annual hundreds of thousands hysterectomy victim.

jiggaz31 said...

Frances, thank you for continuing to look for reasons for hysterectomy and especially castration to continue being performed at alarming numbers even though medical journals indicate no benefit; especially in regard to removal of healthy ovaries.

Unfortunately for me, my ovaries were removed even though my doctor told me that it would be 'better to err on the side of caution in my case and not remove them'.

Yet, two days after he told me this, I woke up with no ovaries. I woke up with no female organs left whatsoever.

Like Cathy, I was put to sleep without being told (via an injection in my IV) so I had no control over what was done to me. I woke up from having been 'gutted' and did not even realize I had had surgery. Once I learned what had been done to me; I cried out that I wanted to die.

I have attempted suicide many times; the first time only five months after this barbaric surgery. I tried to hang myself in my walk-in closet.

I know that the biggest incentive has to be money. I think it is also about power over women. And.... I also think that they do it for the very simple reason that they can.

My doctor's own deposition indicates that he clearly knew he did wrong in my case. He boldly admitted to having altered my medical chart/record. I have copies of both records. When asked why he proceeded with removing my ovaries when I signed for removal of uterus only and not even possible removal of any other organ; he said that he and I had an agreement before the surgery that my mother would tell him what to remove after I was put to sleep. Of course, this was and is a bold lie. When asked if he knew if my mother had the legal right to give permission for this; he said he had no idea. Does that even begin to make sense? Finally, when asked why he would perform an 'elective' surgery on a patient he was treating for suicidal depression, he said that he would not have done so on another patient but that he figured it did not matter in my case. He said that he thought it was just my personality to be depressed and said my mother agreed with him. Of course, my mother did not agree with him. In fact, my mother never talked to him. There was also the fact that this doctor had only seen me a grand total of four or five times so how could he possibly have known my personality?

My doctor further admitted that he is a transsexual doctor and that he performs hysterectomies in order to transform women into men. In other words, he hysterectomizes them in order to de-sex them.

In short, my own doctor's testimony via his deposition is enough to prove that something very wrong happened in my case and that it was through no fault of my own. I, like so many other women, I was an innocent victim.

Although I filed a lawsuit, nothing has happened with that either. It's been almost three years and there has not even been so much as an offer to settle the case; not even in regard to the hospital. And... the hospital admitted that they did not follow their own consent policy and procedure in my case.

My doctor was so bold in the telling of his lies during his testimony that I can think of no reason for this bold behavior except that he obviously knew/knows he can and will get away with what he did to me.

I believe that once doctors know they can no longer mutilate and destroy women with no consequences to their own careers; only then will we see change.

There can be no question that stricter laws must be proposed and passed and, more importantly, enforced. That is the key point. There can be all kinds of laws regarding this issue but when they are not enforced; then they are of no affect.

Anonymous said...

Please see recent my earlier post regarding New York State and New York City laws on hysterectomy and sterilization which are not being enforced. I would like to see an investigation of judges who dismiss serious cases against doctors on small technicalities. We need an investigation.
In addition to the profit angle, I believe there is a hatred of women and their sexuality, misogyny.

Anonymous said...

Please see recent my earlier post regarding New York State and New York City laws on hysterectomy and sterilization which are not being enforced. I would like to see an investigation of judges who dismiss serious cases against doctors on small technicalities. We need an investigation.
In addition to the profit angle, I believe there is a hatred of women and their sexuality, misogyny.

Frances Cerra Whittelsey said...

To all the women who commented here, I want you to know how deeply I sympathize--but sympathy isn't where I'm stopping. I'm doing research for a book on hysterectomy--yes, another book--and this one will express the outrage we all feel and expose the greed, ignorance, incompetence and sexism that lies behind this appalling assault on hundreds of thousands of women every year.

Your stories will make this book powerful. I want to interview you, and can keep your identity secret if that is your wish. Email me at and let me know how I can reach you.

Margaret, I am investigating the NY disclosure laws. I'd love to talk to you about your experience. Please get in touch.

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