Ovarian Cysts

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F r e q u e n t l y A s k e d q u e s t i o n s
When an egg matures, the sac breaks
open to release the egg. The egg travels
through the fallopian (fuh-LOH-pee-
ihn) tube to the uterus for fertilization.
Then the sac dissolves. The empty sac
becomes corpus luteum (LOO-tee-
uhm). Corpus luteum makes hormones
that help prepare for the next egg.
Q: What are ovaries?
The ovaries are the main source of the
A: The ovaries (OH-vuh-reez) are a pair
female hormones estrogen (ESS-truh-
of organs in the female reproductive
juhn) and progesterone (proh-JESS-
system. They are located in the pelvis,
tuh-rohn). These hormones affect:
one on each side of the uterus. The

• the way breasts and body hair grow
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uterus (YOO-tur-uhss) is the hollow,
pear-shaped organ where a baby grows.

• body shape
Each ovary is about the size and shape

• the menstrual cycle
of an almond. The ovaries produce
eggs and female hormones. Hormones

• pregnancy
are chemicals that control the way cer-
tain cells or organs function.
Q: What are ovarian cysts?
Every month, during a woman’s men-
A: A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. They can
strual (MEN-stroo-uhl) cycle, an egg
form anywhere in the body. Ovarian
grows inside an ovary. It grows in a
cysts (sists) form in or on the ovaries.
tiny sac called a follicle (FAH-lih-cull).
The most common type of ovarian cyst
is a functional cyst.
Functional cysts often form during the
menstrual cycle. The two types are:

Follicle cysts. These cysts form
when the sac doesn't break open to
release the egg. Then the sac keeps
growing. This type of cyst most
often goes away in 1 to 3 months.

Corpus luteum cysts. These cysts
form if the sac doesn’t dissolve.
Instead, the sac seals off after the
egg is released. Then fluid builds up
inside. Most of these cysts go away
after a few weeks. They can grow to
almost 4 inches. They may bleed or
twist the ovary and cause pain. They
are rarely cancerous. Some drugs
used to cause ovulation, such as
Clomid® or Serophene®, can raise
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the risk of getting these cysts.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health

F r e q u e n t l y A s k e d q u e s t i o n s
Other types of ovarian cysts are:

• dull ache in the lower back and

Endometriomas (EN-doh-MEE-
tree-OH-muhs). These cysts form

• problems passing urine completely
in women who have endometriosis

• pain during sex
This problem occurs when tissue

• weight gain
that looks and acts like the lining of

• pain during your period
the uterus grows outside the uterus.
The tissue may attach to the ovary

• abnormal bleeding
and form a growth. These cysts can

• nausea or vomiting
be painful during sex and during

• breast tenderness
your period.
If you have these symptoms, get help

Cystadenomas (siss-tahd-uh-
TDD: 1-888-220-5446
right away:
NOH-muhs). These cysts form
from cells on the outer surface of

• pain with fever and vomiting
the ovary. They are often filled with

• sudden, severe abdominal pain
a watery fluid or thick, sticky gel.

• faintness, dizziness, or weakness
They can become large and cause

• rapid breathing

Dermoid (DUR-moid) cysts.
These cysts contain many types of
Q: How are ovarian cysts found?
cells. They may be filled with hair,
A: Doctors most often find ovarian cysts
teeth, and other tissues that become
during routine pelvic exams. The doc-
part of the cyst. They can become
tor may feel the swelling of a cyst on
large and cause pain.
the ovary. Once a cyst is found, tests

Polycystic (pol-ee-SISS-tik)
are done to help plan treatment. Tests
ovaries. These cysts are caused
when eggs mature within the sacs

An ultrasound. This test uses
but are not released. The cycle
sound waves to create images of the
then repeats. The sacs continue
body. With an ultrasound, the doc-
to grow and many cysts form. For
tor can see the cyst’s:
more information about polycys-

? shape
tic ovaries, refer to our FAQ about
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

? size

? location
Q: What are the symptoms of

? mass—if it is f luid-filled, solid, or
ovarian cysts?
A: Many ovarian cysts don’t cause symp-

A pregnancy test. This test may be
toms. Others can cause:
given to rule out pregnancy.

• pressure, swelling, or pain in the

Hormone level tests. Hormone
levels may be checked to see if there

• pelvic pain
are hormone-related problems.
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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health

F r e q u e n t l y A s k e d q u e s t i o n s

A blood test. This test is done to

• looks odd on the ultrasound
find out if the cyst may be cancer-

• causes pain
ous. The test measures a substance
in the blood called cancer-antigen
The two main surgeries are:
125 (CA-125). The amount of

Laparoscopy (lap-uh-ROSS-
CA-125 is higher with ovarian
kuh-pee)—done if the cyst is small
cancer. But some ovarian cancers
and looks benign (noncancerous) on
don’t make enough CA-125 to be
the ultrasound. While you are under
detected by the test. Some noncan-
general anesthesia, a very small cut
cerous diseases also raise CA-125
is made above or below your navel.
levels. Those diseases include
A small instrument that acts like a
uterine fibroids (YOO-tur-ihn
telescope is put into your abdomen.
FEYE-broidz) and endometriosis.
Then your doctor can remove the
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Noncancerous causes of higher
CA-125 are more common in

Laparotomy (lap-uh-ROT-uh-
women younger than 35. Ovarian
mee)—done if the cyst is large and
cancer is very rare in this age group.
may be cancerous. While you are
The CA-125 test is most often
under general anesthesia, larger inci-
given to women who:
sions are made in the stomach to

? are older than 35
remove the cyst. The cyst is then

tested for cancer. If it is cancerous,
? are at high risk for ovarian cancer
the doctor may need to take out

? have a cyst that is partly solid
the ovary and other tissues, like the
uterus. If only one ovary is taken
Q: How are cysts treated?
out, your body is still fertile and can
A: Watchful waiting. If you have a cyst,
still produce estrogen.
you may be told to wait and have a
Birth control pills. If you keep form-
second exam in 1 to 3 months. Your
ing functional cysts, your doctor may
doctor will check to see if the cyst has
prescribe birth control pills to stop you
changed in size. This is a common
from ovulating. If you don’t ovulate,
treatment option for women who:
you are less likely to form new cysts.

• are in their childbearing years
You can also use Depo-Provera®. It is
a hormone that is injected into muscle.

• have no symptoms
It prevents ovulation for 3 months at a

• have a fluid-filled cyst
It may be an option for postmenopausal
Q: Can ovarian cysts be prevented?
Surgery. Your doctor may want to
A: No, ovarian cysts cannot be prevented.
remove the cyst if you are postmeno-
The good news is that most cysts:
pausal, or if it:

• don’t cause symptoms

• doesn’t go away after several men-

• are not cancerous
strual cycles

• go away on their own
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• gets larger
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health

F r e q u e n t l y A s k e d q u e s t i o n s
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you
Q: When are women most likely to
have ovarian cysts?

• changes in your period
A: Most functional ovarian cysts occur

• pain in the pelvic area
during childbearing years. And most of
those cysts are not cancerous. Women

• any of the major symptoms of cysts
who are past menopause (ages 50–70)
with ovarian cysts have a higher risk of
ovarian cancer. At any age, if you think
you have a cyst, see your doctor for a
pelvic exam. n
For More Information...
TDD: 1-888-220-5446
For more information on ovarian cysts, call womenshealth.gov at 1-800-994-9662 or
contact the following organizations:
Agency for Healthcare Research &
American College of Obstetricians
Quality (AHRQ), HHS
and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Phone number: (301) 427-1364
Phone number: (202) 638-5577
Internet address: www.ahrq.gov
Internet address: www.acog.org/
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National
Institute of Child Health and Human

American Society for Reproductive
Development (NICHD), NIH, HHS
Medicine (ASRM)
Phone: (800) 370-2943
Phone: (205) 978-5000
Internet Address: www.nichd.nih.gov/
Internet Address: www.asrm.org
InterNational Council on Infertility
American Academy of Family
Information Dissemination, Inc.
Physicians (AAFP)
Internet Address: http://familydoctor.org
Phone: (703) 379-9178
Internet Address: hwww.inciid.org
All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied,
reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the
Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.
Content last updated September 23, 2008.
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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health