Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or growths that form on a woman's ovaries. The ovaries produce an egg each month. They also produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
What is going on in the body?
Ovarian cysts usually occur in women during reproductive years. The majority are benign, meaning that they do not contain cancer. If a cyst is discovered before puberty or after menopause, it has a higher probability of being cancerous.
Other, more common types of cysts occur throughout life and include:
- cystadenoma cysts, which develop from cells on the outer surface of the ovary
- dermoid cysts, which develop from the egg cells and may be filled with hair, mucus, and skin tissue
- endometriomal cysts, which are formed when tissue from the uterine lining attaches to the ovaries
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Ovarian cysts are quite common. There are two types: functional and abnormal. Functional cysts develop as a part of the normal function of the ovary, or ovulation. Functional cysts are usually smaller than abnormal cysts. They generally go away without treatment. Most cysts are benign, that is, non-cancerous.
What can be done to prevent the condition?
In general, ovarian cysts cannot be prevented.
How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis of ovarian cysts begins with a history and physical exam, including a pelvic exam. The healthcare professional may order additional tests, including:
- pelvic ultrasound
- abdominal CT scan
- abdominal MRI
- diagnostic laparoscopy, in which a small tube is inserted into the abdomen
- X-ray of the urinary system
Long Term Effects
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Functional cysts usually resolve without treatment. Some cysts may cause infertility, menstrual problems, and chronic pelvic pain. Cysts may become twisted, which can cut off their blood supply. This is considered an emergency, and surgery may be necessary to prevent gangrene of that ovary.
Occasionally, a cyst may turn out to be malignant. For this reason, all cysts must be evaluated carefully. Ovarian cancer is relatively uncommon, but tends to have no symptoms in the early stages and thus is frequently found only after it is too late to be treated successfully. Ovarian cancer is not common in women before menopause. Women who have an ovarian cyst between the ages of 50 to 70 are at a higher risk of having ovarian cancer.
What are the risks to others?
Ovarian cysts are not contagious, and pose no risk to others.
What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment options vary, depending on the woman's age and desire for children. The type, size, and age of the cyst are considered. Treatments include the following:
- oral birth control pills
- laparoscopy to drain fluid, remove the cyst, or remove the ovary
- laparotomy, a procedure in which an incision is made in the abdomen to remove the cyst
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Oral contraceptives may cause nausea, bloating, and headaches. Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, or reactions to anesthesia.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
The healthcare professional may recommend that the woman have more frequent pelvic exams for the first year after surgery, because certain cysts have a chance of returning.
How is the condition monitored?
The healthcare professional may recommend regular ultrasound exams to check for returning cysts. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported.