Ovarian Cysts and Masses can be a danger to a woman’s health and should never be ignored. An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on the ovaries. Cysts are fairly common in menstruating women.
What are the Ovaries?
The ovaries are an essential component of a woman’s reproductive system. They lie on each side of the uterus and produce estrogen and other hormones that are related to menstruation and pregnancy. In a monthly process called ovulation, follicles on the ovaries release a mature egg. This egg travels down the fallopian tube, where it may or may not be fertilized by a sperm.
There are many types of ovarian cysts and masses
Fortunately most are benign, but some can become cancerous. Here are some of the more common types of issues:
This is the most common type of cyst. A functional cyst can form either when the follicle fails to release the egg or fails to dissolve after releasing the egg.
Cells on the outside surface of the ovary form cysts, typically filled with fluid.
Dermoid ovarian cysts
Cysts that are composed of other types of tissue such as hair, skin, and teeth.
The endometrium, which normally lines the uterus, can grow abnormally on other organs and tissues, including the ovaries. This disease is called endometriosis.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts and Masses
Many times, ovarian cysts and masses have no symptoms at all. You may not know you have a cyst or tumor until your next pelvic exam. If you are experiencing any symptoms, however, it’s very important to make an appointment with your OB-GYN to have an examination. If a cyst or mass has progressed to the point where it is causing symptoms, it needs to be evaluated.
- Dull aching in the lower back
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Difficult or frequent urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Cramping and abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain
Diagnosing Ovarian Cysts and Masses
While cysts and masses are not uncommon, it’s important to have them examined by your OB-GYN. Most of the time, your OB-GYN will evaluate the mass during a pelvic exam, and then turn to more advanced technology for further examination.
This can help the doctor determine the size and find the precise location of the mass.
This can provide a highly detailed image of your body to show the extent to which the tumor has spread.
During this procedure, a thin, flexible, lighted tube is inserted through an incision in your abdomen. It can give the surgeon a better look at the mass, and can also be used to take a biopsy or remove the mass altogether.
Your OB-GYN can test your blood for various hormones that indicate the presence of cancer. The blood can also be tested for a protein called CA-125, which is commonly elevated in women with ovarian cancer.
Treatment for Ovarian Cysts and Masses
Most ovarian cysts tend to resolve on their own and don’t cause any long-term harm. If your symptoms aren’t bothering you and if you are pre-menopausal, your OB-GYN may recommend a plan of “watchful waiting”. A follow-up exam may be recommended so that your doctor can check on the progress of the cyst.
Other treatments for benign cysts include:
Birth control pills
Hormonal birth control pills prevent ovulation, which decreases the chances that new cysts will develop. Birth control pills have also been shown to relieve pain associated with cysts.
This is a surgical procedure which uses a laparoscope to remove cysts through a small abdominal incision.
Laparotomy and debulking
This is a more invasive surgical procedure in which the surgeon makes a larger incision in the abdomen to remove larger cysts and tumors, and any other tissue onto which the masses have spread. The surgeon takes out as much of the tumor as possible, which may mean the removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, or other tissues.