Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid and/or other tissue that form in or on the ovaries. Ovarian cysts are quite common and occur most commonly in women with regular periods, although they can occur after menopause and during childbearing years. Most ovarian cysts are benign (non-cancerous) and go away on their own. It is rare for a cyst to be malignant (cancerous).
The most common types of ovarian cysts – known as functional cysts – form during the menstrual cycle and are typically benign. These include:
In a normal menstrual cycle, an ovary releases an egg each month which then grows inside a tiny sac called a follicle. When the egg matures, the follicle breaks open to release the egg. In the event that the follicle doesn’t break open, a follicle cyst forms. These often come with no symptoms and go away without treatment in one to three months.
After the follicle breaks open and releases the egg, the empty follicle sac dissolves into a mass of cells called corpus luteum. This makes hormones that prepare the ovaries for the next egg and the next menstrual cycle. Corpus luteum cysts form if the sac doesn’t dissolve and instead the sac reseals itself after the egg is released. These also generally go away after a few weeks but they can grow and may bleed or twist the ovary, causing pain.
This type of cyst forms as a result of endometriosis which occurs when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus.
These cysts form on the outside of the ovary. They are filled with watery fluid and can grow very large although they are typically benign.
Malignant cysts are rare and more common in older women. Cancerous cysts can become ovarian cancer, which is why it’s important to have ovarian cysts checked by your doctor.
Most ovarian cysts are relatively small and do not cause symptoms. They are often found during a routine pelvic exam or imaging test.
Cysts that come with symptoms may cause a dull or sharp ache in the abdomen, bloating, swelling, and pain during certain activities. Larger cysts may cause twisting of the ovary which causes pain on one side that comes and goes. Cysts that bleed or burst can cause sudden, severe pain.
You may want to consider going in for annual exams with your OBGYN to ensure everything is healthy.
Treatment options for cysts depend on the type of cyst and a few other factors. Treatment options include watchful waiting and, in the case of a cyst that is large, surgery may be an option.
This is a way of monitoring a cyst using repeat ultrasound exams to observe if the cyst has changed in size or appearance. Your OBGYN will decide when to conduct these repeat ultrasound exams and how long this follow-up process should last. Many cysts go away without treatment after one or two menstrual cycles.
Surgery may be recommended if the cyst is large or if cancer is suspected. The type of surgery performed depends on several factors: how large the cyst is, the age of the patient, her desire to have children, and the existence of a family history of ovarian or breast cancer.
If the cyst is benign, minimally invasive surgery is recommended and done using a small incision and a laparoscope. Open surgery may be used if cancer is suspected or if the cyst is too large to be removed with laparoscopy. Open surgery requires a larger incision that is made horizontally or vertically on the lower abdomen.
If you suspect that you may have ovarian cysts, contact your OBGYN to figure out the best treatment option for you. Give us a call: 757-461-3890.
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