An ovarian cyst is a collection of fluid within the ovary that is surrounded by a very thin wall, and can range in size from as small as a bean to as large as an orange. Fortunately, most ovarian cysts are harmless or benign, and typically go away on their own.
Ovarian cysts can affect a woman of any age, most commonly during childbearing years. Women with ovarian cysts who are past menopause (age 50–70) have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Signs and symptoms
Often, ovarian cysts don't cause any symptoms. In fact, it may not be known an ovarian cyst is present until it’s discovered by your doctor during a routine pelvic exam.
In some cases, some or all of the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Pressure, swelling or pain in the abdomen or pelvic area
- Dull ache in the lower back and thighs
- Pain during your period or during sex
- Breast tenderness
- Abnormal bleeding
- Weight gain
- Problems emptying your bladder completely
- Nausea or vomiting
If you have any of the following symptoms, see your doctor or gynecologist as soon as possible. These symptoms can be a sign of ovarian tumors, and ovarian cancer can spread long before it is detected:
- Pain with fever and vomiting
- Sudden, severe abdominal pain
- Faintness, dizziness or weakness
- Rapid breathing
Your doctor or physician may conduct any or all of the following tests to determine if the cyst is cancerous and to assist in developing a treatment plan:
- Ultrasound. Sound waves are used to create an image of the ovaries, which can help your physician determine the size and location of the cyst or tumor, and if it is fluid-filled, solid or mixed.
- Other imaging tests. Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) are highly detailed imaging scans your doctor can use to find any ovarian tumors and determine whether they've spread as well as how far they may have spread.
- Hormone levels. Your doctor may take a blood test to check the levels of several hormones, such as luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol and testosterone.
- Laparoscopy. This is a surgical procedure using a thin, light-tipped device inserted into the abdomen. During this surgery, cysts or tumors can be detected and a small piece of tissue (biopsy) can be removed to test for cancer.
- Blood test. If there is a possibility the growth may be cancerous, your physician may take a blood test to look for a protein called CA-125. Levels of this protein tend to be higher in some — but not all — women with ovarian cancer. This test is mainly used in women over age 35, who are at slightly higher risk for ovarian cancer.
In some cases, treatment may be necessary, depending on the size of the ovarian cyst and the symptoms being experienced. Treatment may include any of the following:
- Pain relievers
- Warm bath, heating pad or hot water bottle applied to the lower abdomen
- Bags of ice covered with towels used alternately as cold treatments to increase circulation
- Combined methods of hormonal contraception
- Limitations on strenuous activity
Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cyst if you are postmenopausal, or if the cyst:
- Increases in size
- Causes pain
- Looks abnormal on ultrasound
- Doesn't go away after several menstrual cycles
The surgery types include:
- Laparoscopy: This type of surgery is performed if the cyst is small and looks benign on the ultrasound. A small incision will be made near the navel and a small, flexible instrument equipped with fiber optics is placed into the abdomen. The instrument allows your doctor to view and remove the cyst.
- Laparotomy: This type of surgery is performed if the cyst is large and is possibly cancerous. Incisions are made in the stomach to remove the cyst, which is then tested for cancer. If it is cancerous, the doctor may need to remove the ovaries and other tissues, such as the uterus.
- Robotic-assisted: This type of surgery may be recommended by your physician if ovary removal is found to be necessary. This minimally-invasive technique is performed using a special machine (robot) to conduct the surgery through small incisions in the abdomen, much like a laparoscopic surgery. Though called a robot, the machine does not act on its own, but is an extension of the surgeon's hands. They control the robot's actions, which translates hand movements into small, precise movements of tiny instruments inside the body. The robot's camera and lighting system also provide your surgeon with a magnified, high-definition, three-dimensional (3D) view of the surgical field. This minimally invasive technique provides benefits to patients, including: less post-operative pain, faster recovery times, less bleeding and less scarring. However, minimally invasive robotic surgery may not be the best option for everyone. Your physician can explain all of the options available to treat your ovarian cysts, including whether you’re a good candidate for minimally invasive robotic surgery.
Read more about Summa’s use of the DaVinci robotic-assisted system for minimally invasive surgery.
For more information or to schedule an appointment for a pelvic exam with a Summa physician, click or call (800) 237-8662.