As if reaching a decision about if and when you want to get your uterus out is not enough, you now must also decide how much and in which way your uterus will come out. Unbeknownst to many, the uterus can come out from above (a.k.a. abdominal), below (a.k.a. vaginal), or a little of both (laparoscopic assisted or robotic). But it’s not so cut and dry (no pun intended). Imagine you are standing on line at your favorite ice cream shop. In those minutes before you give your order, you run through the options and the pros and cons of the various choices—chocolate with sprinkles, vanilla with chocolate chips, or maybe toffee crunch with nuts. Although whatever gets you to go with chocolate over vanilla is not so memorable and fairly insignificant, what makes you choose a vaginal hysterectomy versus an abdominal hysterectomy or doctor A versus doctor B should be unforgettable. So, as your favorite ice cream scoopers, here’s what’s on the menu—step by step.
Flavor (Is my uterus coming out?)
The first decision that must be made (whether on the ice cream line or in the hysterectomy process) is the most basic one: are you going to remove your uterus? This decision is a big one, and when making it, you must be comfortable and clear on why you are doing what you are doing. Is it because of pain, pressure, bleeding, or cancer? And have you tried medical or non-surgical treatments before moving on to surgery? Whatever the reason there must be a reason and a reason that does not have any other solution. And while we are not knocking vanilla ice cream, your reason for taking out your uterus should not be “vanilla!”
After you decide what flavor you are choosing, you must decide how to eat it. Translate that into your uterus. After you decide if you are going to take your uterus out, you must decide if you want to remove your uterus and cervix (total hysterectomy) or just your uterus (supracervical hysterectomy). There has long been a suggestion that women who take out their cervix will suffer sexual consequences, dysfunction, and urinary incontinence. However, more recent data have debunked these theories, and most women opt to take the cervix out with the uterus to reduce the risk of cervical cancer. And while you have a lot of say in what you are going to leave and what you are going to remove, your doctor will also be a big part of this decision.
Toppings (Is my uterus coming out abdominally, vaginally, laparoscopically, or robotically?)
Even for us GYNs, it’s sometimes hard to believe how many different ways there are to remove the uterus. Long gone are the days of it’s abdominal or bust. Depending on things like the size of the uterus, the pathology (problems) affecting the uterus, the shape of the vagina, the presence of other medical conditions (think things like heart and lung disease), past surgical history (previous abdominal/vaginal surgeries), and the need for concurrent procedures (removing your ovaries as well as your uterus), one way may be recommended over another.
While there are pros and cons to each approach, research shows that, in most cases, the safest way to remove the uterus is vaginally. And while you may not be a candidate for a vaginal hysterectomy (the uterus is too big or you have had 3 C-sections in the past), it’s important to ask your MD why she is recommending a certain route and why you are not a candidate for another. It’s your uterus, and you deserve answers. And remember, the answer should never be because that is what the surgeon is most comfortable with…it should always be what you are most comfortable with.
With a cherry on top (Whom are you selecting as your surgeon?)
Deciding who is going to do the “scooping” (a.k.a. your surgeon) is a big decision. Not all “scoopers” were created equal. Some of us scoop daily, while others scoop no more than once a year. And as you can imagine, the more you do it (otherwise known as operate), the better you are at it. Make sure to ask about the surgeon’s experience, surgical outcome data, and training. It can make a huge difference in how your procedure goes.
While this is no ice-cream parlor and you may not be lining up to get your uterus out, if done in the right way, for the right reasons, and with the right surgeon, you will be enjoying an ice cream cone in no time. A hysterectomy may not be the treat you were dreaming of, but it will likely take care of many of your problems—at least when it comes to your female organs. So start building your perfect “hysterectomy sundae.” It can bring you sweetness and satisfaction for years to come!