Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Hysterectomy or cancer: are you sure?

I happened across an interesting news item today, a report of a newly released study in the June 2005 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Many women who have their uterus removed for benign conditions may mistakenly believe that, unless they have the surgery, they're likely to develop cancer, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 1,100 women who underwent hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, 29 percent said they had "a lot" of fear that they would develop cancer, without the surgery. The large majority, 80 percent, reported at least "a little" fear.

The report goes on to question whether this misunderstanding is rooted in the explanations doctors are giving their patients for their options. For some of the most common reasons for a hyst, there are other treatment options that may be applicable, but women may not choose them out of (a groundless) fear of cancer.

So for every woman who is contemplating this surgery, it's vitally important that you ask your doctor explicitly why he is recommending this treatment approach and what explicitly are the consequences of not treating it this way. If you hear the word tumor (as is often used in discussing fibroids), are you sure whether you are talking benign (harmless) or malignant (can kill you)? If not, ask your doctor: is my condition cancer? will I get cancer if I don't do this? Your doctor knows what he's talking about, but his assumption that you do too may not be well-founded. It's always better to say something like "just to be sure I understand what we're talking about here, do I have cancer now or will I in the future if I don't have a hyst?" than to undergo medical treatment that may be more extreme than you really want because you didn't get the unspoken message.