Hysterectomy is among the most common major surgical procedures performed in our hospitals. In the UK alone, around 20 per cent of all women have had a hysterectomy by the time they've reached the age of 55, while 600,000 procedures are performed in hospitals in the USA every year, which equates to one a minute.
In nine out of every 10 procedures, it's a 'just in case' operation as many of the women don't have any malignancies at the time. Indeed, there's no sign of any problem at all, and so gynaecologists use the catch-all, and meaningless, term of 'dysfunctional uterine bleeding' to justify major surgery.
Doctors have taken the view that gynaecological-related cancers are responsible for a third of all deaths in middle-aged women, and so it's a case of being better out than in. Some others take a less kind view, and have called gynaecologists 'hyster-happy'. Medical historian Roy Porter described the rising rate of hysterectomies as an "abuse of gynaecological surgery to control women".
If it is an abuse, it's not one that's about to end. In fact, a new study has delivered such a positive result about long-term outcome that it gives the gynaecologist even greater licence to reach for the knife. The one thing that may have stayed his hand was the increased health risk to the patient. Earlier studies had found that women who had had a hysterectomy were more likely to suffer rectal and thyroid cancer, and were also more prone to renal cell carcinoma.
But the new study has concluded that women who have a hysterectomy will live as long as those who don't. It may, however, be a dangerous conclusion to draw. All the women recruited into the study were known to be far healthier than the average population, and 98 per cent of them were white, while there is evidence that post-hysterectomy disease is higher among black women.
These concerns will cause rarely a flicker of doubt in the mind of the gynaecologist. Expect to see hysterectomy rates rise ever higher. And remember, you read it here first.
* Just how necessary is the hysterectomy, and what can you do to stay healthy after the menopause? These questions, and many more besides, are answered in the WDDTY Guide to the Menopause. To order your copy, click here: http://www.wddty.co.uk/shop