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Does Having An Ovarian Cyst Mean I Have Cancer?

They might sound scary, but ovarian cysts are common. During each menstrual cycle, ovarian cysts regularly appear and disappear during ovulation. There’s a certain amount of anxiety that comes with cysts, which can be either benign — meaning they are harmless — or malignant, with cancerous cells. Most ovarian cysts are normal and resolve on their own, but there are times when your doctor might recommend surgery.

Can I Tell If I Have Ovarian Cysts?

Most women have ovarian cysts without ever realizing it, but for others, cysts can cause bloating, pressure or pain in the pelvic area. They can feel similar to the type of menstrual cramping you might experience, , but you should see a doctor if the pain or pressure feels more significant or lasts longer than usual.

Ovarian cysts are more likely to show up if you’re perimenopausal, but menopausal women still get them, and there’s a higher likelihood the cysts could be cancerous in older women. If you’re feeling pressure and pain even though you stopped menstruating a while ago, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with your doctor.

What Doctor Will Check

There are several ways your doctor can determine size, location and characteristics of your ovarian cysts,  including speculum exams, bimanual internal exams, lab work and vaginal ultrasounds. Depending on these factors, your doctor will decide whether surgical removal is the right next step:

  • Size: Ovarian cysts that are larger than 6 to 10 centimeters come with the possibility of torsion, when the cyst ruptures and the ovary can twist around itself. Enlarged cysts can also indicate polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.

  • Appearance: A vaginal ultrasound can tell whether the cyst is singular with thin walls, or if it’s multilocular, consisting of smaller offshoots.

  • Bloodwork: Your doctor also can check genetic and tumor markers that can point to likelihood of your cyst being malignant before you decide on surgery.

Since many cysts resolve by themselves within two to three months, your doctor may suggest you wait if the results of the exam point to the cyst being benign. As long as there are no red flags and you’re not in pain, your cyst can be monitored through regular imaging to see if it shrinks and resolves.

What To Expect from Surgery

Surgery to remove a cyst is typically an outpatient procedure. The location and angle of the cyst determines whether minimally invasive laparoscopy through the navel is possible, or whether more involved surgical procedures are required. Regardless of method, it’s crucial the cyst remains intact throughout the procedure. Rupturing within the pelvis can cause problems, especially if the cyst is malignant.

Whether you’ve had surgery or your cyst has resolved on its own, your doctor may want to discuss ways to prevent problematic ovarian cysts from recurring, such as hormonal birth control or other hormone management options.

If you’re past your childbearing years and lab work has shown you may have a higher cancer risk, you could also opt for a hysterectomy, which may include removal of the ovaries depending on your age and family history.


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