What is an ovarian cyst?
Q-and-A with Tamara Means, M.D., Signature OB/GYN
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac or pocket that forms within or on the surface of a woman’s ovary, typically in tandem with her monthly menstrual cycle.
Some ovarian cysts are functional, meaning they present at the time of ovulation and are filled with fluid and natural hormones. Some women with functional ovarian cysts will feel pelvic pain or a sensation of “fullness,” while others will experience no signs or symptoms at all; in fact, many women have cysts and are not even aware of their presence. In other cases, an ovarian cyst can present in the form of an abnormal growth. Once an abnormal growth is detected, we monitor it closely to note changes in the size and character of the cyst. Most cysts are benign and go away on their own. In the event that a cyst is growing, causing a woman ongoing or significant pain, or develops worrisome abnormalities, we typically recommend surgical removal. Some cysts will increase the risk of ovarian torsions, as the ovary twists around its blood supply. This would be considered a surgical emergency.
When we talk with women about ovarian cysts, the most common reaction and question we hear is “is it cancer?” While it is possible for an ovarian cyst to be cancerous, we always stress that not every cyst is cancerous and not every cyst is abnormal. In fact, MOST cysts are created simply as a natural part of a woman’s monthly cycle and are not anything to worry about. We also stress that the presence of ovarian cysts does not increase the likeliness that a woman will develop ovarian cancer. It is important, however, to let your physician know if cancerous cysts are part of your family’s medical history. Genetics plays a role in how we evaluate cysts that may present and can confirm if they are functional or abnormal in nature.
If you have specific questions or concerns about ovarian cysts, be sure to discuss them with your GYN during your annual visit.