3. Hysterectomy for Uterine Fibroids
Each year approximately 600,000 American women have hysterectomies, or removal of the uterus, and studies show that the vast majority are unnecessary. A hysterectomy is critical when the patient has cancer (which is the case for about 10 percent of those women). But most patients undergo the procedure for quality-of-life concerns such as heavy bleeding or pain caused by uterine fibroids — benign growths in the uterine wall.
Complications are common. Women who undergo a hysterectomy have a 60 percent increased risk of incontinence by age 60, a University of California, San Francisco study found. A hysterectomy that includes removal of the ovaries — an oophorectomy — throws the patient into instant menopause. These patients also face a higher risk of heart disease and lung cancer, says William Parker, M.D., author of A Gynecologist's Second Opinion and lead investigator of a 2009 study on the long-term health consequences of hysterectomy.
Alternatives to surgery
If you suffer from uterine fibroids, ask your doctor about other options, including uterine-artery embolization, in which the arteries leading to the uterus are blocked, causing the fibroids to stop growing. You might also consider a new procedure, focused ultrasound, which shrinks fibroids via ultrasound waves. "It's kind of amazing that we've had all these alternative procedures for many years and they haven't gained a lot of traction," says Parker.