Understanding Ovarian Cysts

Theodore Miller, MD
Ovarian cancer

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms on or inside an ovary. Ovarian cysts are very common in women of all ages. They can occur for various reasons, and they may need different treatments.

Types of ovarian cysts

There are different types of ovarian cysts:

  • Functional cyst: This is the most common type of ovarian cyst. They occur in women who haven’t gone through menopause. There are two types:
    • Follicular cyst. This cyst happens when an egg isn’t released and it keeps growing inside the ovary.
    • Corpus luteum cyst. This type of cyst occurs when the sac around the egg doesn’t dissolve after the egg is released.
  • Endometrioma: This is a cyst filled with old blood and tissue from the lining of the uterus.
  • Dermoid cyst: This cyst develops from ovarian cells and eggs. These cysts are common in women of childbearing age.

What causes ovarian cysts?

Cysts can also be caused by:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that causes multiple cysts on the ovaries
  • Pregnancy
  • Severe pelvic infection, such as chlamydia
  • Noncancerous growths
  • Using fertility medicine to cause ovulation

Symptoms of an ovarian cyst

Many women don’t have any symptoms from the cyst. In women with symptoms, the most common is pain or pressure in your lower belly on the side of the cyst. This pain may be dull or sharp, and it may come and go. A cyst that breaks open (ruptures) may lead to sudden, sharp pain.

Other symptoms of an ovarian cyst can include pain in the lower back or thighs, trouble emptying your bladder fully, pain during sex, weight gain, pain during your period and breast tenderness.

Diagnosing an ovarian cyst

Your health care provider will ask about your health history and your symptoms. You will also have a physical exam, which will likely include a pelvic exam. During the pelvic exam, your doctor may feel the swelling on your ovary.

If your doctor thinks you may have an ovarian cyst, you may need tests, which may include:

  • Ultrasound. The test can also show if the growth is solid or filled with fluid.
  • MRI. This will create a detailed picture of the area.
  • Pregnancy test. This is done to check if pregnancy may be the cause of the cyst.
  • Blood tests. These check for hormone issues and cancer. They also check if the cyst is bleeding.
  • Surgical removal.  Some cysts are concerning enough that they should be removed.  This allows the lab to examine the cyst for possible cancer cells.

How are ovarian cysts treated?

There are several treatment options for cysts. Choosing an option depends on the type of cyst and other factors. Treatment options include watchful waiting (monitoring) and, if the cyst is large or causing symptoms, surgery.

If your cyst is thought to be benign, minimally invasive surgery is recommended. Minimally invasive surgery is done using small incisions and a special instrument called a laparoscope. This type of surgery is called a laparoscopy. Another type of surgery is called open surgery. In open surgery, an incision is made horizontally or vertically in the lower abdomen. Open surgery may be done if cancer is suspected or if the cyst is too large to be removed by laparoscopy.

Theodore Miller, MD, gynecologist, sees patients at Ripon Medical Center. To schedule an appointment, call (920) 745-3530.

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