It’s important to know about ovarian cysts because many women worry about the risk of cancer. We immediately reassure our patients at Gynecologic Surgery & Menopause Solutions that ovarian cysts are quite normal, and they’re rarely cancerous. However, ovarian cysts can grow large enough to cause pain and other symptoms. Here’s a rundown covering what you need to know about ovarian cysts.
How ovarian cysts develop
Every woman who ovulates develops temporary ovarian cysts because they arise from minor glitches in the monthly reproductive cycle. Your ovaries contain tiny structures called follicles. Each follicle is a fluid-filled sac that holds one immature egg.
Every month, many eggs start to mature, but only one becomes the dominant follicle. The egg in the dominant follicle fully matures, and at ovulation, the follicle opens and releases the egg into the Fallopian tube.
The follicles of the eggs that tried to mature but failed and the remaining follicle of the egg that was released have the potential to become ovarian cysts. These groups of follicles produce the two most common types of ovarian cysts. Both types, called functional ovarian cysts, are noncancerous and usually go away on their own:
Corpus luteum cyst
This type of ovarian cyst develops from the follicle that released the egg. As soon as the mature egg is gone, the empty follicle shrinks into a group of cells called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum has the vital job of releasing the progesterone needed to prepare the uterus to nurture the egg in the event it was fertilized on its way through the Fallopian tube.
If the egg isn’t fertilized, the corpus luteum usually breaks down and disappears. But sometimes it turns into a cyst. In most cases, a corpus luteum cyst naturally goes away in a few weeks.
All the follicles containing eggs that started to mature but failed do one of two things: Either they break down and dissolve like the corpus luteum, or they continue to accumulate fluid and turn into a cyst. After a follicular cyst develops, it can continue to accumulate fluid and enlarge. However, these cysts typically disappear in one to two months.
Preventing ovarian cysts
There’s nothing you can do — no lifestyle changes you can make — to stop corpus luteum and follicular cysts from forming. More importantly, the majority of women don’t need to worry about preventing ovarian cysts because they’re harmless.
Oral contraceptives (OC) inhibit follicular maturation, so they can help reduce your chances of developing ovarian cysts in the future. However, they aren’t routinely used to prevent cysts.
If you tend to get a lot of symptomatic cysts, we may consider OC therapy to lower your risk of getting new cysts. We’ll carefully evaluate your overall health and weigh any potential risks of OCs against the size, rate of growth, and severity of your ovarian cysts.
When ovarian cysts present a problem
In the event corpus luteum or follicular cysts don’t disappear on their own, they may remain small and never cause problems. They can also continue to grow and eventually cause symptoms such as pelvic pain, bloating, swelling, or pressure. All cysts can rupture if they get too large. Should that happen, you’ll experience sudden, severe pain.
As long as you don’t develop uncomfortable symptoms, these cysts don’t need to be treated. We take an approach called watchful waiting, which means we use ultrasound to keep an eye on the cyst and monitor its growth. If the cyst gets too large or causes too much pain, we may recommend minimally invasive surgery to remove the cyst. In addition to relieving your symptoms, this takes away the worry of a rupture.
Though not nearly as common as functional cysts, there are several other types of ovarian cysts. You can’t prevent these cysts, even with OCs. Though most are harmless (unless they rupture), one type of cyst that develops from endometriosis contributes to infertility and another rare type of cyst can progress to become cancer.
If you have any questions abdominal pain and bloating or ovarian cysts, call Gynecologic Surgery & Menopause Solutions, or schedule an appointment online.