Ovarian Cysts Are Common, Rarely Cancerous

Health Topics

If you develop an ovarian cysts, you’re not alone. They are common both during and after reproductive years.

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms in or on the ovaries. Though they can be as small as a pea, they also can grow to be larger than an orange.

Why Do They Form?

During each menstrual cycle one or both of your ovaries produce follicles. The hormones in these follicles produce an egg. When the follicle breaks open, the egg is released, a process called ovulation. However, some months the follicle doesn’t break open, so the egg and the fluid stay inside the follicle, forming a cyst.

Cysts are common between puberty an menopause and become less common after menopause. 

Most ovarian cysts are called functional cysts. They are harmless, not cancerous, and go away on their own. Other cysts not related to the normal function of your menstrual cycle include dermoid cysts, and cysts that form as a result of endometriosis.

How Will I Know If I Have One?

Ovarian cysts often have no symptoms. You may not even know you have one. But they can become painful if they:

  • Become twisted 
  • Bleed
  • Break open
  • Get bumped during sexual intercourse
  • Grow large
  • Interfere with blood supply to the ovary

Other symptoms of ovarian cysts could include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Constant, dull, achy pelvic pain
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Pelvic pain just before or after the start of your menstrual period
  • Severe, sudden pelvic pain, accompanied with nausea and vomiting

Your health care provider may discover a cyst during a pelvic exam, or as the result of an ultrasound you’re having one done for another reason. 

If you’re having symptoms, your doctor might recommend an ultrasoundCT scan, Doppler flow study, or MRI to diagnose the cyst.

There is usually no treatment needed for ovarian cysts. They will go away on their own in eight to 12 weeks.

If you get cysts frequently, birth control pills can help prevent new cysts from forming, but they won’t reduce the size of already-existing cysts.

Surgery might be needed for ovarian cysts if you have:

  • Complex cysts that won’t go away
  • Cysts causing symptoms that are ongoing
  • Simple ovarian cysts larger than 10 cm

If you are near or past menopause, surgery may be recommended to remove an ovarian cyst.

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