The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are located on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs and the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
Every month, during a woman’s menstrual cycle, an egg grows inside an ovary. It grows in a tiny sac called a follicle. When an egg matures, the sac breaks open to release the egg. The egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus for fertilization. Then the sac dissolves. The empty sac becomes corpus luteum. Corpus luteum makes hormones that help prepare for the next egg.
normal ovarian cysts
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. They can form anywhere in the body. Ovarian cysts form in or on the ovaries. The most common type of ovarian cyst is a functional cyst.
Functional cysts often form during the menstrual cycle. The two types are:
Follicle cysts. These cysts form when the sac doesn’t break open to release the egg. Then the sac keeps growing. This type of cyst most often goes away in 1 to 3 months.
Corpus luteum cysts. These cysts form if the sac doesn’t dissolve after ovulation. Most of these cysts go away after a few weeks. They may bleed or twist the ovary and cause pain. They are rarely cancerous.
abnormal ovarian cysts
Endometriomas. These cysts form in women who have endometriosis. This problem occurs when tissue that looks and acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. The tissue may attach to the ovary and form a growth. These cysts can be painful during sex and during your period.
Cystadenomas. These cysts form from cells on the outer surface of the ovary. They are often filled with a watery fluid or thick, sticky gel. They can become large and cause pain.
Dermoid. These cysts contain many types of cells. They may be filled with hair, teeth, and other tissues that become part of the cyst. They can become large and cause pain.
Polycystic ovaries. These cysts are caused when eggs mature within the sacs but are not released. The cycle then repeats. The sacs continue to grow and many small cysts form.
symptoms & diagnosis
Many ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms. Others can cause:
- Pressure, swelling, or pain in the abdomen
- Pelvic pain
- Dull ache in the lower back and thighs
- Problems passing urine completely
- Pain during sex
- Weight gain
- Pain during your period
- Abnormal bleeding
- Nausea or vomiting
An ultrasound scan is used to asses the size, shape and location of the cysts.
Hormone levels may be checked to see if there are hormone-related problems.
A blood test may be done to find out if the cyst may be cancerous. The test measures a substance in the blood called cancer-antigen 125 (CA-125). The amount of CA-125 is higher with ovarian cancer. But some ovarian cancers don’t make enough CA-125 to be detected by the test. Also, some noncancerous diseases such as fibroids and endometriosis also raise CA-125 levels. The CA-125 test is most often given to women who are older than 35, at high risk for ovarian cancer or have a cyst that is partly solid.
Watchful waiting. If you have a cyst, you may be told to wait and have a second exam in 1 to 3 months. Your doctor will check to see if the cyst has changed in size. This is a common treatment option for women who:
- Are in their childbearing years
- Have no symptoms
- Have a fluid-filled cyst
- postmenopausal women (depending upon type of cyst)
Surgery. Your doctor may want to remove the cyst if you are postmenopausal, or if it:
Doesn’t go away after several menstrual cycles
- Gets larger
- Looks odd on the ultrasound
- Causes pain
Medication. If you keep forming functional cysts, your doctor may prescribe pills to stop you from ovulating. If you don’t ovulate, you are less likely to form new cysts.
Ovarian cysts cannot be prevented. The good news is that most cysts:
- Don’t cause symptoms
- Are not cancerous
- Go away on their own
Most functional ovarian cysts occur during childbearing years. And most of those cysts are not cancerous. Women who are past menopause (ages 50–70) with ovarian cysts have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you notice:
- Changes in your period
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Any of the major symptoms of cysts