Benign ovarian masses include functional cysts and tumors; most are asymptomatic.
There are 2 types of functional cysts:
Most functional cysts are < 1.5 cm in diameter; few exceed 5 cm. Functional cysts usually resolve spontaneously over days to weeks. Functional cysts are uncommon after menopause.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (see Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)) is usually defined as a clinical syndrome, not by the presence of ovarian cysts. But ovaries typically contain many 2- to 6-mm follicular cysts and sometimes contain larger cysts that contain atretic cells.
Benign ovarian tumors usually grow slowly and rarely become malignant. They include the following:
Symptoms and Signs
Most functional cysts and benign tumors are asymptomatic. Sometimes they cause menstrual abnormalities. Hemorrhagic corpus luteum cysts may cause pain or signs of peritonitis, particularly when they rupture. Occasionally, severe abdominal pain results from adnexal torsion of a cyst or mass, usually > 4 cm (see Adnexal Torsion). Ascites and rarely pleural effusion may accompany fibromas.
Masses are usually detected incidentally but may be suggested by symptoms and signs. A pregnancy test is done to exclude ectopic pregnancy. Transvaginal ultrasonography can usually confirm the diagnosis. If results are indeterminate, MRI or CT may help.
Masses with radiographic characteristics of cancer (eg, cystic and solid components, surface excrescences, multilocular appearance, irregular shape) require excision. Tests for tumor markers are done if a mass requires excision or if certain specific tumors are suspected (see Diagnosis). One commercially available product tests for 5 tumor markers (β2 microglobulin, cancer antigen [CA] 125 II, apolipoprotein A-1, prealbumin, transferrin) and may help determine the need for surgery. Tumor markers are best used for monitoring response to treatment rather than for screening, for which they lack adequate sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values. For example, tumor marker values may be falsely elevated in women who have endometriosis, uterine fibroids, peritonitis, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or various cancers.
In women of reproductive age, simple, thin-walled cystic adnexal masses 5 to 8 cm (usually follicular) without characteristics of cancer do not require further evaluation unless they persist for > 3 menstrual cycles.
Many ovarian cysts < 8 cm resolve without treatment; serial ultrasonography is done to document resolution.
If technically feasible, cyst removal from the ovary (ovarian cystectomy) via laparoscopy or laparotomy may be necessary for the following:
Oophorectomy is done for the following:
Last full review/revision July 2014 by S. Gene McNeeley, MD
Content last modified July 2014