Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or pockets within or on the surface of an ovary. Women have two ovaries — each about the size and shape of an almond — located on each side of the uterus. Eggs (ova) develop and mature in the ovaries and are released in monthly cycles during your childbearing years.
Many women have ovarian cysts at some time during their lives. Most ovarian cysts present little or no discomfort and are harmless. The majority of ovarian cysts disappear without treatment within a few months.
However, ovarian cysts — especially those that have ruptured — sometimes produce serious symptoms. The best ways to protect your health are to know the symptoms that may signal a more significant problem and to schedule regular pelvic examinations.
How common is ovarian cyst?
Ovarian cyst is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cyst?
Most cysts don’t cause any symptoms and go away on their own. A large ovarian cyst can cause abdominal discomfort. If a large cyst presses on your bladder, you may feel the need to urinate more frequently because bladder capacity is reduced.
The signs and symptoms of ovarian cysts, if present, may include:
Pelvic pain — a dull ache that may radiate to your lower back and thighs
Pelvic pain shortly before your period begins or just before it ends
Pelvic pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
Pain during bowel movements or pressure on your bowels
Nausea, vomiting or breast tenderness like that experienced during pregnancy
Fullness or heaviness in your abdomen
Pressure on your bladder that causes you to urinate more frequently or have difficulty emptying your bladder completely
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor immediately if you have any of the following:
Sudden, severe abdominal or pelvic pain
Pain accompanied by fever or vomiting
These signs and symptoms — or those of shock, such as cold, clammy skin; rapid breathing; and lightheadedness or weakness — indicate an emergency and mean that you need to see a doctor right away.
What causes ovarian cyst?
Most ovarian cysts develop as a result of the normal function of your menstrual cycle. These are known as functional cysts. Other types of cysts are much less common.
Functional cysts: Your ovaries normally grow cyst-like structures called follicles each month. Follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone and release an egg when you ovulate. Sometimes a normal monthly follicle keeps growing. When that happens, it is known as a functional cyst. There are two types of functional cysts:
Follicular cyst. Around the midpoint of your menstrual cycle, an egg bursts out of its follicle and travels down the fallopian tube in search of sperm and fertilization. A follicular cyst begins when something goes wrong and the follicle doesn’t rupture or release its egg. Instead it grows and turns into a cyst.
Corpus luteum cyst. When a follicle releases its egg, the ruptured follicle begins producing large quantities of estrogen and progesterone for conception. This follicle is now called the corpus luteum. Sometimes, however, the escape opening of the egg seals off and fluid accumulates inside the follicle, causing the corpus luteum to expand into a cyst. The fertility drug clomiphene (Clomid, Serophene), which is used to induce ovulation, increases the risk of a corpus luteum cyst developing after ovulation. These cysts don’t prevent or threaten a resulting pregnancy.
Functional cysts are usually harmless, rarely cause pain, and often disappear on their own within two or three menstrual cycles.
Some types of cysts are not related to the normal function of your menstrual cycle. These cysts include:
Dermoid cysts. These cysts may contain tissue, such as hair, skin or teeth, because they form from cells that produce human eggs. They are rarely cancerous.
These cysts develop from ovarian tissue and may be filled with a watery liquid or a mucous material.
These cysts develop as a result of endometriosis, a condition in which uterine endometrial cells grow outside your uterus. Some of that tissue may attach to your ovary and form a growth.
Dermoid cysts and cystadenomas can become large, causing the ovary to move out of its usual position in the pelvis. This increases the chance of painful twisting of your ovary, called ovarian torsion.
What increases my risk for ovarian cyst?
Ovarian cysts are quite common in women who ovulate. You’re less likely to develop cysts after menopause. If you do develop an ovarian cyst after menopause, it increases your risk for ovarian cancer.
About 8 percent of premenopausal women have a cyst that’s large enough to need treatment.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is ovarian cyst diagnosed?
A cyst on your ovary may be found during a pelvic exam. If a cyst is suspected, doctors often advise further testing to determine its type and whether you need treatment.
Typically, doctors address several questions to determine a diagnosis and to aid in management decisions:
How big is it?
Is it filled with fluid, solid or mixed? Fluid-filled cysts aren’t likely to be cancerous. Those that are solid or mixed — filled with fluid and solid — may require further evaluation to determine whether cancer is present.
To identify the type of cyst, your doctor may perform the following tests or procedures:
Pregnancy test. A positive pregnancy test may suggest that your cyst is a corpus luteum cyst, which can develop when the ruptured follicle that released your egg reseals and fills with fluid.
Pelvic ultrasound. In this procedure, a wand-like device (transducer) sends and receives high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create an image of your uterus and ovaries on a video screen. Your doctor analyzes the image to confirm the presence of a cyst, help identify its location and determine whether it’s solid, filled with fluid or mixed.
Using a laparoscope — a slim, lighted instrument inserted into your abdomen through a small incision — your doctor can see your ovaries and remove the ovarian cyst. This is a surgical procedure that will require you to undergo anesthesia.
CA 125 blood test. Blood levels of a protein called cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) often are elevated in women with ovarian cancer. If you develop an ovarian cyst that is partially solid and you are at high risk of ovarian cancer, your doctor may test the level of CA 125 in your blood to determine whether your cyst could be cancerous. Elevated CA 125 levels can also occur in noncancerous conditions, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease.
How is ovarian cyst treated?
Treatment depends on your age, the type and size of your cyst, and your symptoms. Your doctor may suggest:
Watchful waiting. In many cases you can wait and be re-examined to see if the cyst goes away on its own within a few months. This is typically an option — regardless of your age — if you have no symptoms and an ultrasound shows you have a small, fluid-filled cyst. Your doctor will likely recommend that you get follow-up pelvic ultrasounds at periodic intervals to see if your cyst has changed in size.
Birth control pills. Your doctor may recommend birth control pills to reduce the chance of new cysts developing in future menstrual cycles. Oral contraceptives offer the added benefit of significantly reducing your risk of ovarian cancer — the risk decreases the longer you take birth control pills.
Your doctor may suggest removal of a cyst if it is large, doesn’t look like a functional cyst, is growing, or persists through two or three menstrual cycles. Cysts that cause pain or other symptoms may be removed.
Some cysts can be removed without removing the ovary in a procedure known as an ovarian cystectomy. In some circumstances, your doctor may suggest removing the affected ovary and leaving the other intact in a procedure known as oophorectomy.
If a cystic mass is cancerous, however, your doctor will likely advise a total hysterectomy plus removing both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, as well as your uterus. Your doctor is also likely to recommend surgery when a cystic mass develops on the ovaries after menopause.