Ovary Removal Tied to Colon Cancer Risk

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Removal of the ovaries — a procedure known as oophorectomy — may increase the risk for colorectal cancer, a new study concludes.

In some cases, such as cancer, the ovaries must be removed. They are commonly also removed electively during surgery for hysterectomy to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer.

The study, in the British Journal of Surgery, included 195,973 women in a Swedish health registry who had undergone oophorectomy either prophylactically or for benign conditions between 1965 and 2011. After an average follow-up of 18 years, 3,150 had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. That rate — 1.6 percent — is about 30 percent higher than the rate in the general population.

The scientists found that the rate of colorectal cancer was lower in younger women and highest in the first four years after oophorectomy.

Oophorectomy has other risks too, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Josefin Segelman, a surgeon at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Androgen levels drop after the operation, and this is tied to osteoporosis, decreased sexual desire and other problems.

Still, she said, “If you find abnormal ovaries at the time of surgery, they should be removed. But prophylactic oophorectomy should not be performed where there is no clear risk of ovarian cancer.”