Ovarian Cyst

ovarian cyst


In women of childbearing age, an ovum (egg) forms and matures each month in a tiny structure within an ovary, called a follicle. When the egg is released (at ovulation) the follicle turns into a small structure called a corpus luteum. If you become pregnant, the corpus luteum forms hormones to help with the pregnancy. If you do not become pregnant, the corpus luteum shrinks and goes away within a couple of weeks.

What are ovarian cysts?

A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. Cysts develop in various places in the body. Depending on the type of cyst, the fluid within the cyst can range from thin and watery to thick and paste-like. Cysts on the ovary are very common. The vast majority of ovarian cysts are benign (non-cancerous) but some are cancerous, or may become cancerous over time. Ovarian cysts can vary in size - from less than the size of a pea to the size of a large melon (occasionally even larger).

There are various types which include the following:

Functional ovarian cysts
These are the most common type. They form in some women of childbearing age (women who still have periods) when there is a functional fault with ovulation. They are very common. There are two types:

  • Follicular cysts. A follicle (see above) can sometimes enlarge and fill with fluid. They can occur commonly in women who are receiving infertility treatment.
  • Corpus luteum cysts. These occur when the corpus luteum (see above) fills with fluid or blood to form a cyst. A blood-filled cyst is sometimes called an haemorrhagic cyst.

Dermoid cysts (sometimes called benign mature cystic teratomas)

These cysts often contain contents such as hair, parts of teeth or bone, fatty tissue, etc. This is because these cysts develop from cells which make eggs in the ovary. An egg has the potential to develop into any type of cell.



Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial tissue (the tissue that lines the uterus) is found outside the uterus. It sometimes forms cysts which fill with blood.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic means many cysts. If you have PCOS you develop many tiny benign cysts in your ovaries.

What are the symptoms, problems and possible complications?

  • Most ovarian cysts are small, benign (non-cancerous), and cause no symptoms.
  • Pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen. The pain may be constant or intermittent. Pain may only occur when you have sex.
  • Periods sometimes become irregular, or may become heavier or lighter than usual.
  • Sometimes a cyst may bleed into itself, or burst. This can cause a sudden severe pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Occasionally, a cyst which is growing on a stalk from an ovary may twist the stalk on itself (a torsion). This can cause sudden severe pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Large cysts can cause your abdomen to swell, or press on nearby structures.

How is an ovarian cyst diagnosed?

As most ovarian cysts cause no symptoms, many cysts are diagnosed by chance - for example, during a routine examination, or if you have an ultrasound scan for another reason.
An ultrasound scan can confirm an ovarian cyst. An ultrasound scan is a safe and painless test which uses sound waves to create images of organs and structures inside your body.

What is the treatment for ovarian cysts?

  • Observation
    • Many small ovarian cysts will resolve and disappear over a few months. You may be advised to have a repeat ultrasound scan after a month or so. If the cyst goes away then no further action is needed.
  • Operation
    • Removal of an ovarian cyst may be advised, especially if you have symptoms or if the cyst is large. Sometimes the specialist may want to remove it to determine exactly which type of cyst it is and to make sure there are no cancer cells in it. Most smaller cysts can be removed by a laparoscopic surgery (keyhole surgery). Some cysts require a more traditional style of operation.

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