What you should know about ovarian cysts
January 29, 2014
Finding out there is a cyst on the ovary is often a concerning experience for a woman. Women aren't sure what it means for them or what will need to be done.
A woman has two ovaries, which produce eggs, which allow a woman to get pregnant, and produce female hormones. These hormones cause the lining of the uterus to grow, which then shed (as the period). Ovaries are actively making hormones and ripening eggs from when the period first starts until when she goes through menopause. As an egg is ripening in the ovary, several small cysts will form. These grow to about 2.5 cm, or one inch, and then when the woman ovulates or releases the egg the cyst drains and is gone. So when a woman has an ultrasound that shows a cyst less than 3 cm it is usually a "follicular" cyst - that is a cyst with a developing egg. This type of cyst is completely normal and will come and go.
Cysts that are larger than 3 cm are more likely to be functional cysts. These are cysts that start out as a cyst that is growing an egg, but then get bigger for some reason. Perhaps the cyst gets filled with blood or extra fluid as it is growing. These can get 4 cm or larger, but this type of cyst will resolve and go away on its own in 1-2 months. If your doctor thinks a cyst may be this type, he or she may recommend repeating an ultrasound in 2 months to see if the cyst is going away or not. Most of the time surgery is not needed in this situation.
Sometimes a cyst turns out to be a benign growth on the ovary. Types of benign growths include dermoid cysts, endometriomas or cystadenomas. This type of cyst does not go away on its own, and often will grow over time. If they are large or growing they will need to be removed surgically, usually by laparoscopy or "belly button surgery". Much of the time the cyst is removed and the ovary left.
Rarely, an ovarian cyst turns out to be cancer. Often how the cyst looks on ultrasound clues the doctors into knowing it may be cancer, or a blood test will show an increased chance of cancer. Most women who get cancer of the ovary are older.
The good news is that most ovarian cysts are functional and will go away on their own and a few are benign growths that will need removal. If you have questions about ovarian cysts, talk to your health care provider.