What is an ovarian cyst?

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled pouch or sac on or around the ovary.  Ovarian cysts are very common in young women during their childbearing years and less common in postmenopausal women.  Women can develop one or multiple ovarian cysts and these cysts can vary greatly in size.  Some cysts can be observed while others require medical or surgical treatment.

How are ovarian cysts diagnosed?

There are three main ways in which ovarian cysts are detected.  The first is during a pelvic exam.  Your doctor may actually feel the cyst during his or her bimanual exam.  The second way is a pelvic ultrasound (sonogram).  An ultrasound is the best way to image the pelvic organs including the uterus and the ovaries.  It is more effective than a CT scan or MRI.  The third and last way to diagnose ovarian cysts is through laparoscopy, a surgery in which a laparoscope (a long, thin tube with a camera attached) is inserted in the abdomen to visualize the pelvic organs.

Can ovarian cysts be cancerous?

Rarely, ovarian cysts can be cancer. Again, this largely depends on your age, other symptoms, and cyst appearance/size. The overwhelming majority of ovarian cysts are benign however.

What symptoms do ovarian cysts cause?

Most ovarian cysts are asymptomatic (cause no symptoms).  However, if symptomatic, ovarian cysts most commonly cause pelvic pain.  This can be due to many reasons.  Some cysts can rupture (burst) while others can twist.  Others cause pain just by their large size.

How are ovarian cysts treated?

Treatment for ovarian cysts depends largely on your age, cyst size, cyst appearance, and your reproductive wishes.  Some ovarian cysts are safe to observe while others may require a more aggressive treatment plan.  Generally speaking, ovarian cysts can be treated medically or surgically.  The primary medical management plan usually involves birth control pills.  Birth control pills will not necessarily treat established ovarian cysts but help prevent new cysts from forming by inhibiting ovulation (monthly release of an egg).  Surgical management includes removing the cyst itself (ovarian cystectomy) or the entire ovary (oophorectomy) on which the cyst is attached.  Usually your doctor cannot tell for sure what type of procedure you will need until the cyst is visualized during surgery.