Oophorectomy is removal of either one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) ovaries. The fallopian tube(s) may be removed as well. Common reasons for oophorectomy include benign tumors of the ovary such as an endometrioma or dermoid; ovarian cancer; pelvic infection; and ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus).
In many cases, benign tumors, dermoid cysts, and endometriomas (cysts of endometriosis) can be removed without taking out the ovaries. Large functional cysts (fluid-filled sacs that often form during a menstrual cycle) can also be removed in this way, if they are not reabsorbed on their own.
The ovaries usually continue to produce some hormones after menopause. Routine removal of healthy ovaries of women over 45 during a scheduled hysterectomy should no longer be done, as evidence now shows that removing ovaries in this way does more harm than good, because many more women will die from heart disease than from the relatively small number of ovarian cancers that would be prevented. For more information, see Hysterectomy and Ovarian Conservation.
Women who have mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at higher risk for ovarian cancer and sometimes have their ovaries removed as prevention.
If only one ovary is removed and not your uterus, you will continue to be fertile and have menstrual periods. However, you may experience an earlier menopause. If both ovaries are removed, you will experience surgical menopause. Even if one ovary is retained, you may have menopause-like symptoms due to loss of blood supply to the remaining ovary. (Such symptoms are also possible when both ovaries are retained after a hysterectomy.)
For more information on how oophorectomy can affect your sexuality, see Hysterectomy, Oophorectomy, and Sexuality.