An ovarian cyst is a sac filled with fluid or semisolid material that forms in the ovary. Ovaries are small organs in the pelvis that hold egg cells and produce hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone.
There are different types of ovarian cysts, most of which are painless and harmless (benign). Usually, ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms. You may not know that you have an ovarian cyst unless found during a routine pelvic examination or during an imaging procedure.
What are the types of ovarian cysts
Most ovarian cysts are functional cysts. They form in response to your body’s changes during the menstrual cycle.
Less commonly, ovarian cysts form for reasons unrelated to menstruation and are called non-functional cysts.
Functional cysts are the most common type and are not disease-related. They occur as a result of ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). These cysts can be a sign that the ovaries are functioning as they should. Functional cysts generally disappear on their own, usually within 6-8 weeks, without any treatment.
Not all ovarian cysts form in response to the menstrual cycle. They are not always signs of disease, but Mr Alak Pal may want to monitor them to ensure that they don’t cause complications. They include:
A cystadenoma forms on the surface of the ovary. It is filled with fluid which may be thin and watery or thick and mucous-like.
- Dermoid cyst (teratoma)
A dermoid cyst consists of cells that make up all types of tissue in the human body, ranging from skin, hair, teeth and fat.
An endometrioma contains thick and sticky blood.
- Ovarian cancer
Unlike the conditions above, an ovarian cancer cyst contains solid masses of cancer cells and some fluid.
How common are ovarian cysts
Ovarian cysts are extremely common, especially if you haven’t gone through menopause yet. Functional cysts are the most common type.
What are the signs and symptoms of an ovarian cyst
A small cyst may cause no symptoms at all and you may not even know that you have an ovarian cyst.
Larger ovarian cysts may cause:
- Pelvic pain or a dull ache in your back.
- A feeling of fullness (bloating) located in your lower belly that may feel more pronounced on one side of your body.
- Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia).
- Painful periods.
How is an ovarian cyst diagnosed
A pelvic ultrasound can identify a cyst on the ovary, especially its size and if mainly fluid or solid. If the cyst is very large and appears complex on ultrasound, an MRI of the pelvis may be required.
How is an ovarian cyst treated
Treatment will depend on factors like your age, symptoms and appearances of the cyst on ultrasound or MRI.
Mr Alak Pal will discuss this further with you to provide the treatment which is the most appropriate for you. This can include:
Functional ovarian cysts usually go away without treatment. If your cyst is likely functional, Mr Alak Pal may suggest a wait-and-see approach. You may have a follow-up ultrasound in a few weeks or months after the diagnosis to see if the cyst has disappeared on its own.
You may be given medications containing hormones (such as birth control pills) to stop ovulation and prevent further cysts.
If an ovarian cyst is causing symptoms and getting bigger, you may need surgery to remove it. The type of surgery depends on the size of the cyst and how it appears on ultrasound. The different procedures used include:
- Laparoscopy: This is a procedure where a narrow camera is inserted through a small incision in your abdomen so that the cyst can be removed through further small incisions on the abdomen. Removal of the cyst from the ovary is called ovarian cystectomy.
- Laparotomy: Laparotomy is when the abdomen is opened through a larger incision; this may be done if the cyst is very large or if there are other concerns.
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