Hands off my Fallopian Tubes!

Researchers at the B.C. Cancer Agency claim that removing a woman’s Fallopian tubes during a hysterectomy or tubal ligation could dramatically cut the rate of ovarian cancer. It is hailed as a cheap,  preventative approach to cancer but surely it’s  just more mutilation of women’s bodies. 

Researchers had previously believed that ovarian cancer began in the ovaries. However new research has it that most ovarian cancer actually begins in the fallopian tubes and then spreads to the ovaries. This latest finding is leading to new ways to prevent the cancer-namely the removal of the fallopian tubes.Researchers claim that removing a woman’s fallopian tubes during a hysterectomy or tubal ligation could dramatically cut the rate of ovarian cancer.

Removal of the tubes is easy and cheap according to the researchers. This is because 25 percent of women have a hysterectomy and around 20-30 percent of women have tubal ligations. Researchers claim that the removal of the fallopian tubes can be done at the same time that these very common surgeries are being performed. In other words these pesky fallopian tubes can simply be whisked away while the woman is on the operating table.

Now don’t get me wrong, ovarian cancer is a nasty disease and is the ninth most common cancer in women with the number of Australian women being diagnosed having increased from 835 in 1982 to 1272 in 2008. Risk factors include ageing, gene mutations, and a strong family history of ovarian cancer and some other cancers such as uterine or colon cancers. The usual treatments are radical surgery and toxic chemotherapy with limited success.

Clearly there needs to be a better way to approach this disease but taking out more female organs strikes me as regrettable. The fact that 20-30 percent of women have a hysterectomy is unfortunate and most likely totally unnecessary with most of these being performed for heavy periods for which non-surgical treatments exist. The Campaign against Hysterectomies and Unnecessary Operations on Women, maintain that 90 percent of referrals for hysterectomy cannot be justified.

There are other causes of ovarian cancer as there are for all cancers. Other risk factors for ovarian cancer include being a white  woman living in a westernised country with a high standard of living,  being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, having no or few full-term pregnancies, smoking, being obese, multiple exposures to fertility drugs, and using oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for 10 or more years.

So to amputate the fallopian tubes rather than seek to eradicate preventable causes is problematic, but then in the words of feminist and author Germaine Greer: “Three hundred years of male professionals lancing women’s bodies as if they were abcesses is not easily undone.”

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