What are Ovarian Cysts?
Ovarian cysts are growths that form on the ovaries, the two small organs on either side of a woman’s uterus that produce an egg each month. Ovarian cysts are very common in women during their reproductive years. Some types of ovarian cysts are normal and usually harmless, often going away without any treatment. However, some cysts are abnormal and may cause problems.
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac, similar to a blister. Some types of ovarian cysts are formed as a result of the normal process of ovulation - the monthly release of an egg from an ovary. Cysts that are abnormal often occur as the result of an imbalance in oestrogen and progesterone, which are female hormones produced in the ovaries.
What are the Types of Ovarian Cysts?
1. Functional cysts - This is the most common type of ovarian cyst. They usually do not cause any symptom or require treatment. Normally, they stop growing and disappear within 1-3 menstrual cycles. These cysts are common in women who menstruate, but rare in women who have reached menopause.
2. Demoid - A cystic growth filled with various types of tissue, such as hair and skin tissue.
3. Cystadenoma - Cysts that develop from cells on the outer surface of the ovary.
4. Endometrioma - A cyst formed when tissue similar to that lining the uterus is attached to the ovaries, a condition known as endometriosis.
5. Polycystic ovarian disease - A buildup of follicle cysts that causes the ovaries to become enlarged and form a thick outer covering, preventing ovulation.
These types of cysts are usually benign, or non-cancerous. Although benign cysts may cause problems or symptoms that require treatment, they usually don’t spread to other parts of the body. However, some cysts may be malignant or cancerous tumours. Ovarian cancer is uncommon in women before menopause. Women who have an ovarian cyst between the ages of 50-70 are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts?
Most ovarian cysts don’t cause any symptoms. However, some symptoms include:
- Dull ache in the abdomen
- A sense of pressure or fullness in the abdomen
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Delayed, irregular or unusually painful periods
- Enlargement or swelling of the lower abdomen
How is Ovarian Cysts Diagnosed?
- Pelvic and abdominal examination
- Ultrasound scan
Ovarian cysts are often first found during a pelvic exam. Hence, it is important to have regular checkups by a doctor.
What are the Treatment Options for Ovarian Cysts?
If a young woman has a small cyst that is not causing any symptoms, treatment may not be necessary as most functional cysts go away without any treatment after 1-3 months.
A doctor may prescribe hormones, such as birth control pills, to shrink the cysts. In some cases, surgery may be needed if:
- The cyst doesn’t go away after a few menstrual periods
- The cyst doesn’t go away after treatment with oral contraceptives
- The cysts are very large
- A cyst is found in a woman past the menopause
- Symptoms, such as severe pain or bleeding, are present
- A cyst becomes twisted (torsion)
The extent and type of surgery needed depends on several factors. If a cyst is found early, the surgery required may be less extensive. Sometimes a cyst can be removed while leaving the ovary intact. In other cases, one or both ovaries may have to be removed. Sometimes, more extensive surgery, such as hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), may be needed.
Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O&G)