Hysterectomies Not Well Understood by U.S. Women

More than 1 in 10 mistakenly thought women could get pregnant without a uterus, researchers found

FRIDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Although there are more hysterectomies in the United States than in any other industrialized nation in the world, many American women do not have a clear understanding of the procedure and how it will affect their bodies, according to a new study.

For example, more than one in 10 mistakenly thought that the uterus, which is removed during a hysterectomy, is not necessary to pregnancy. This suggests that some women may think they can have biological children after a hysterectomy, which is not possible.

"More comprehensive counseling is imperative for women who are younger, lack college education, and are on public assistance," said the study's leader, Dr. Oz Harmanli of Springfield, Mass., in a news release from the American Urogynecologic Society (AUG). "As physicians, we must raise the bar in women's health care and take steps to educate patients about the details and implications of all treatment options."

In the study, researchers questioned 1,273 women about hysterectomies and how this procedure affects women's sexual function and reproductive system. The vast majority of those interviewed were between 18 and 59 years old.

The study, presented Wednesday at the AUG's 32nd Annual Scientific Meeting, found that 22 percent of the women did not know the exact meaning of hysterectomy. Although it is defined as the removal of the uterus, many women mistakenly thought the ovaries and fallopian tubes were also routinely taken out during this procedure.

Total hysterectomies include the removal of the cervix, or the opening part of the uterus, making it impossible for women to develop new cases of cervical cancer. When asked about this procedure, however, 44 percent of the women did not know if it eliminated the disease.

Moreover, 41 percent of the women thought Pap smears, or tests to predict cervical cancer risk, were necessary after total hysterectomy. In fact, Pap smears are no longer needed unless the hysterectomy is performed as a result of cancer.

Additional questions revealed many of the women did not have a full understanding of female reproduction, the researchers noted. More specifically, 13 percent did not know the uterus was necessary to get pregnant.

Most of the women, 64 percent, also incorrectly believed the uterus determined menopausal change. Women's ovaries perform this role. Another 30 percent of women were unsure if removal of the uterus would stop women's menstrual cycles.

Regarding sexual activity, 35 percent of the women mistakenly expected changes in sexual function after even a supracervical hysterectomy, which excludes the cervix.

And although research has shown otherwise, 11 percent of the women still thought sex would be less enjoyable after a hysterectomy.

The study's authors noted the women with college degrees knew significantly more about female reproduction than the women with less education.

Because the study findings were presented at a medical meeting, they should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

WomensHealth.gov has more about hysterectomy.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: American Urogynecologic Society, news release, Sept. 14, 2011

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