Definition of an Ovarian Cyst

Causes of Cysts and Why They are Usually Not Cancerous

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An ovarian cyst is a fluid filled pocket located in or on the ovary. Sometimes cysts can cause pain in the pelvis, but they usually cause no symptoms. Ovarian cysts are mostly found incidentally, like when a woman is undergoing a pelvic exam or during an ultrasound

What are the Causes of Ovarian Cysts?

There are different types of cysts depending on whether a woman has reached menopause or not. For example, a premenopausal woman, or woman who is still having menstrual cycles, can develop a follicular cyst.

This type of cyst occurs when the body begins growing a follicle that does not release the developing egg inside.

Another type of cyst is called a corpus luteum cyst, which occurs after an egg has been released from a follicle, at the end of the menstrual cycle. Often times, follicular cysts and corpus luteum cysts are referred to as functional ovarian cysts. 

Cysts on the ovary are also common in early pregnancy, so do not be surprised if your doctor orders a pregnancy test when a cyst is detected. 

Cysts are also commonly present (but not required for the diagnosis ) in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). These small cysts do not require removal or treatment. That being said, women with PCOS may require treatment for other manifestations of their condition, including irregular menstrual cycles, metabolic issues, and symptoms of high androgen levels, like acne or hair growth. 

In addition, some fertility medications, such as Clomid, may increase your chances of getting cysts at the end of a cycle.

 If you are undergoing fertility treatment and have a cyst, you may require a rest cycle. 

Are Ovarian Cysts An Indication of Cancer?

Most ovarian cysts are not cancerous, though the doctor may want you to undergo further testing to be sure, mostly if you are postmenopausal, or if your cyst is large or looks suspicious on ultrasound.

This testing often includes periodic pelvic ultrasounds and a blood test called CA 125, which can be elevated in ovarian cancer. During this time, it's important to follow-up closely with your gynecologist. 

How are Ovarian Cysts Treated?

Treatment is usually not necessary, as cysts typically go away on their own. Although your doctor will often repeat an ultrasound in six to eight weeks to ensure resolution.

If on the initial or repeat ultrasound, a cyst is large, has a change in appearance, is not resolving, or looks suspicious, it will need to be surgically removed. Another potential indication for surgery is if a cyst is causing a lot of pain, like pelvic pain or pain during sex or when having a bowel movement. 

The Bottom Line

Ovarian cysts are common in women, and the good news is that the vast majority are benign and do not require surgery to remove them.

Talk with your gynecologist if you are concerned about your ovarian cysts. Sometimes your doctor will prescribe birth control pills if you frequently develop cysts -- this may lower your chance of developing new ones.


United States National Library of Medicine. (2014). Ovarian cysts

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition

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