Noncancerous (benign) ovarian growths include functional cysts and tumors.
Functional cysts form from the fluid-filled cavities (follicles) in the ovaries. Each follicle contains one egg. Usually, during each menstrual cycle, one follicle releases one egg. About one third of women who are menstruating have cysts. Functional cysts seldom develop after menopause.
There are two types of functional cysts:
Most functional cysts are less than about 2/3 inch (1.5 centimeters) in diameter. A few reach or exceed about 2 inches (5 centimeters). Functional cysts usually disappear on their own after a few days or weeks.
Noncancerous (benign) ovarian tumors usually grow slowly and rarely become cancerous. The most common include the following:
Most functional cysts and noncancerous tumors do not cause any symptoms. Sometimes women have irregular periods and spotting. If corpus luteum cysts bleed, they may cause pain or tenderness in the pelvic area. If women have a fever, feel nauseated, and vomit, the spaces in the abdomen (abdominal cavity) and the tissues lining it may be infected (a disorder called peritonitis). Occasionally, sudden, severe abdominal pain occurs because a large cyst or mass causes the ovary to twist (a disorder called adnexal torsion).
Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites) can occur with fibromas and ovarian cancer. Ascites may cause a feeling of pressure or heaviness in the abdomen.
Doctors usually detect cysts or tumors during a routine pelvic examination. But sometimes doctors suspect them based on symptoms.
A pregnancy test is done to rule out pregnancy, including pregnancy located outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy). Ultrasonography using an ultrasound device inserted into the vagina (transvaginal ultrasonography) is done to confirm the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is still unclear, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) may be done. If these tests suggest that the growth could be cancerous, doctors remove it and examine it under a microscope. They may also do blood tests to check for substances called markers, which may appear in the blood or may increase when some cancers are present.
If ovarian cysts are less than 3 inches (about 7 centimeters) in diameter, they usually disappear without treatment. Ultrasonography is done periodically to check.
If a cyst or tumor needs to be removed, laparoscopy or laparotomy is done if possible. Laparoscopy requires two or three small incisions in the abdomen. It is done in a hospital and usually requires a general anesthetic. However, women do not have to stay overnight. Laparotomy is similar but requires a larger incision and an overnight stay in the hospital. Which procedure is used depends on how large the growth is and whether other organs are affected. Cystectomy (removal of the cyst) can usually be done for the following conditions:
Removal of the affected ovary (oophorectomy) is necessary for the following:
Last full review/revision December 2008 by S. Gene McNeeley, MD