Decision making about prophylactic oophorectomy among at-risk women: psychological influences and implications

Gynecol Oncol. 1999 Dec;75(3):406-12. doi: 10.1006/gyno.1999.5611.


Objective: Women with a family history of ovarian cancer are confronted with difficult decisions regarding the management of their risk status. Currently, the main preventive option available is prophylactic oophorectomy. The objective of the present paper is to review research and theory on psychological factors that influence decision making about preventive surgery and discuss the implications for patient management.

Methods: Guided by a cognitive-social framework, the literature on decision making about preventive surgery is reviewed and integrated.

Results: The available studies show that women are more likely to opt for surgery if they feel more vulnerable to cancer, believe that surgery will prevent cancer, and are worried about developing cancer. Further, the response to ovarian risk is influenced by the individual's characteristic psychological style: monitors (who typically scan for and amplify threatening cues) tend to feel more vulnerable to cancer and more distressed about their cancer risk than blunters (who typically distract from threatening cues) do.

Conclusion: On the basis of prior research, monitors may be more likely to choose surgical intervention to reduce their distress, without fully anticipating the psychological and medical consequences of that decision. In order to facilitate informed decision making, counseling protocols should be designed to enable the patient to understand and take account of the psychological consequences of the available medical options. Future studies are needed to systematically extend and explore the proposed theory-based relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Cognition
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Ovariectomy / psychology*
  • Risk