What is ovarian ablation?

Ovarian ablation is the shutdown of ovarian function in order to suppress the production of hormones. Doctors most commonly recommend ovarian ablation to help treat hormone-dependent breast cancer in women who have not yet reached menopause. Because estrogen makes hormone-dependent breast cancers grow, eliminating estrogen production in the body can help shrink breast cancer tumors, prevent spread of breast cancer, and lower the chances of its recurrence.

Ovarian ablation may temporarily or permanently shut down your ovaries, depending on the technique your doctor recommends. If your doctor removes your ovaries or permanently shuts down ovarian production with radiation, you will enter menopause and stop having reproductive functions. This means you will no longer have a menstrual period or be able to get pregnant.

Ovarian ablation is a common but serious medical technique with significant risks and potential complications. It is only one method used to treat breast cancer. Ask your doctor about your options to understand which option is best for you.

Types of ovarian ablation

There are three methods of ovarian ablation:

  • Medication therapy chemically suppresses the production of estrogen and other hormones from the ovaries. The most common medications used for this purpose are goserelin (Zoladex) and leuprolide (Lupron). Your ovaries may resume hormone production a few weeks to a few months after you stop taking the medication.
  • Surgery to remove the ovaries is called an oophorectomy. After this irreversible procedure, you will enter menopause, stop having periods, and lose the ability to become pregnant.
  • Radiation therapy permanently shuts down ovarian function. Doctors rarely use radiation to destroy ovarian function.

Why is ovarian ablation performed?

Your doctor may recommend ovarian ablation to treat certain types of breast cancers that grow in response to the hormone estrogen. Doctors use ovarian ablation most commonly to help treat hormone-dependent breast cancer in premenopausal women with normal ovarian function. Shutting down the ovaries drastically reduces estrogen production in the body. This can help shrink breast cancer tumors, prevent the spread of breast cancer, and lower the chances of its reoccurrence.

Other types of breast cancer treatment include mastectomy and chemotherapy, as well as hormone therapy. Hormone therapy blocks the action of estrogen—drugs include tamoxifen (Nolvadex) and fulvestrant (Faslodex).

Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on ovarian ablation.

Who performs ovarian ablation?

A number of different types of doctors can perform ovarian ablation in a hospital, surgical center, or medical office. The location and doctor involved in your ovarian ablation depends on the treatment method that you and your doctor choose.

One of the following specialists will perform your ovarian ablation:

  • Obstetrician-gynecologists specialize in women’s reproductive health and pregnancy.
  • Oncologists and gynecologic oncologists specialize in diagnosing, treating and preventing cancer. Gynecologic oncologists are surgeons who further specialize in treating cancers of the female reproductive system.
  • General surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions.
  • Radiologists specialize in using radiation and other imaging techniques to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions from broken bones and birth defects to cancer.

How is ovarian ablation performed?

There are three methods of ovarian ablation. Discuss the different treatments with your doctor or healthcare provider to understand which option is right for you.

Medication

Hormone therapy temporarily suppresses estrogen production from the ovaries. Goserelin (Zoladex) and leuprolide (Lupron) are the most common medications used for this. Both medications are injections given once a month for several months. Leuprolide is also available as a long-lasting depot injection that only needs to be given every few months. Your ovaries may resume producing estrogen a few weeks to a few months after you stop receiving the injections. This may be an advantage for women who still want to bear children after treatment.