Women's Services Encyclopedia
The vast majority of “cysts” discovered during pelvic exams or ultrasounds in premenopausal women resolve spontaneously if left alone.
Most are “functional” cysts that are the result of normal ovulatory function.
Generally speaking, the term “cyst” refers to a growth within the ovary that is filled with fluid. This characteristic
can usually be determined by ultrasound examination. Both benign and malignant tumors can also be “cystic.” The term “tumor” usually
refers to a growth within the ovary that is solid, with little or no fluid component. Some ovarian masses have both solid and cystic components.
Ovarian cysts must be divided into two segments: premenopausal and postmenopausal. Cysts in these two groups
of women differ significantly in etiology, diagnosis and treatment.
Cysts in Premenopausal Women:
- One (or occasionally both) ovaries begin to enlarge shortly after the onset of menses.
- By day 10 to 14 of the cycle, a dominant follicle (cyst) has developed. This “cyst” can be 4 inches or more in diameter.
- By the time of ovulation, it can be larger. Should a pelvic exam or transvaginal sonogram be done at this time, a “cyst” will be
found. It is a normal, natural process.
- At the time of ovulation, the follicle (cyst) ruptures and an egg (oocyte) is released. This can be associated with bleeding inside the abdomen
- Once ovulation has occurred, the remaining cyst is called a corpus luteum. It is an entirely normal and natural cyst. When a corpus luteum cyst
is seen on a sonogram, it can be very unusual in appearance, displaying both solid and cystic components. This sonographic appearance is caused
by varying amounts of blood contained within the cyst.
- When a cyst “ruptures,” it is usually a follicle that has released an egg along with a few ounces of follicular fluid. If the follicle
ruptures through a blood vessel (which is not uncommon), blood accumulates in the pelvis and is usually associated with a lot of pain. The pain
can be severe and acute, but is almost always self-limited. This is usually called a “hemorrhagic” cyst. It is completely normal and
rarely requires surgery.
- Corpus luteum cysts will virtually always resolve (heal) spontaneously if left alone.
- Unfortunately, this is one of the most common reason for surgical removal of ovaries and ovarian cysts in premenopausal women. When a corpus
lutean cyst or a simple functional cyst (follicle) is suspected, nothing need be done. A simple transvaginal sonogram performed a few weeks later
will confirm that the “cyst” has resolved.
Cysts in Postmenopausal Women
Since postmenopausal women no longer ovulate, “functional” cysts should not occur. This is why gynecologists are much more concerned
about “cysts” found in postmenopausal women than their premenopausal counterparts. These “cysts” are much more likely to
be benign or malignant tumors that require surgical intervention. Once discovered, they are usually removed surgically or reexamined by transvaginal
sonogram a few weeks later, depending on many factors.
If there is reason enough to suspect that a cyst might be a benign tumor or malignancy, surgical intervention is indicated. The gynecologist should
have good reasons (based on age, symptoms, concurrent medications, sonographic appearance, cycle day, change in appearance during serial sonograms,
and other factors) to recommend surgery.
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