Are you happy with your family size? Have you had all the kids that you planned or a few more? Are you considering having your tubes tied? Let's talk about that.
Sterilization Procedures: Then and Now
Prior to the development of effective hormonal contraception, women choosing to end their childbearing through sterilization procedures had major operations to remove their fallopian tubes or had hysterectomies. Although the history of female sterilization is clouded with cases where women may not have given informed consent, since 1960, about the same time that birth control pills came on the market, techniques for female sterilization became less invasive and easier to do with less risk. The term used for these easier techniques is tubal ligation.
Now, there are many techniques and the timing for this procedure, and about 30% of American women have had a tubal ligation. Techniques include taking a suture and tying it around a loop of tube and then cutting the tied-off loop of the tube out. And then there are a number of techniques like this to remove the middle segment of the fallopian tube so sperm cannot get to eggs and fertilize them. Other techniques include putting a clip to close the tube permanently, or cauterize or burning the tube in the middle to close it.
The timing could be shortly after a baby is born, within a day or so, while the woman is still in the hospital, or at the time of Caesarian section when the tube is right there, or anytime between children, when the procedure can be done by laparoscopy. But half of tubal sterilizations occur right after the baby is delivered vaginally or by Caesarian, and that comes to about 350,000 tubal sterilizations a year.
The word "ligation" in the term "tubal ligation" means to tie. This unfortunate term translates into tying your tubes. This has led some women to assume if you had your tubes tied, it would be simple to untie your tubes, like untying your shoelaces. Tubal ligation can be reversed surgically for women who regret having had a tubal sterilization, but it's expensive and it doesn't always work.
Decreasing Cancer Risk with Tubal Sterilization
For years, it has been noted that tubal sterilization decreased the risk of some types of ovarian cancer by 30% to 50%. Now, that's significant. Now, we're getting to the main topic of this little podcast. The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer in the U.S. is about 1.3 out of 100 women. Ovarian cancer is particularly deadly because it spreads early, and we don't have any early detection methods the way we do with breast cancer, like a mammogram, or cervical cancer with a Pap smear. Ovarian cancer comes in different types, but one of the most common types, serous ovarian cancer, may often actually arise in the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary. For this reason, women who have genetically-linked risks of ovarian cancer, such as the BRCA1 and 2 mutations with familial breast and ovarian cancer, are recommended to have their ovaries and their fallopian tubes removed when they finished having their families.
Recent studies have suggested that women who are planning a tubal sterilization who have their tubes completely removed have about a 60% reduction in the risk of these serous ovarian cancers compared to women who didn't have a tubal sterilization or women who just had part of their tubes removed at tubal ligation.
Pros and Cons of Ligation vs. Sterilization
Now, there are other advantages to having the entire tube removed if a woman is planning a tubal sterilization. Tubal ligations have a known failure rate, a pregnancy after the procedure of as much as 3 to 5 pregnancies per 100 women over 10 years who had their tubal sterilization at the time other than when the baby was delivered, with laparoscopy. Women who had their tubes completely removed have a much lower failure rate, almost zero. Women who have a tubal ligation also have an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy or tubal pregnancy if they do become pregnant compared to women who've had their tubes removed completely.
Now, we know that putting a little clip on the tube, burning the tube, or cutting a loop of tube is quite simple and takes a very short time. Anybody could do it. Removing the whole tube takes a little longer. Studies recently published looked at women who were randomized to removing the whole tube at the time of tubal sterilization or cutting a loop out at the time of Caesarian section an easy time to do it as the tube is right there to look at and operate on.
One study used an advanced technique to take out the tube completely and found that time was only about five minutes longer compared to the standard procedure of taking out just a part of the tube. Another study using older techniques suggested took about 10 to 15 minutes longer. There was not significantly more blood loss with taking the whole tube out compared to just part of the tube.
The other issue is that if the entire tube is removed, you cannot come back and have your tubes untied or put back together again the way you might if only a part of the tube is removed. Of course, these days, many women who choose to have more children after tubal sterilization will use in vitro fertilization and it doesn't matter if you have part of a tube or no tube. Although IVF is expensive, so is surgically putting the tube back together again. And in some cases, IVF may be more successful.
What to Consider before Tubal Sterilization
So if you're planning a tubal sterilization, your tubes, not your husband's tubes, that would be a vasectomy, consider the following. If you have a BRCA1 or 2 mutation or have a strong family history of ovarian cancer, you should have your entire tubes removed when you have your tubal sterilization, whether it's right after the baby is delivered or sometime later. And often, women also had their ovaries removed.
If you have concerns about ovarian cancer, and you're planning a tubal sterilization, talk with your OB-GYN about taking the whole tube out. If you don't have a family history of ovarian cancer and the concern of the risk of ovarian cancer isn't high on your worry list, think about the benefits and risks that were just mentioned and discuss your options with your OB-GYN. Many OB-GYNs are discussing tubal removal as an alternative to tubal ligation when women are planning a tubal sterilization. Whatever you choose, we're glad you are informed about new options and old options in planning your family, and thanks for joining us on The Scope.
updated: September 10, 2020
originally published: August 9, 2018
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