Ovarian cysts

Our approach

Northwell Health specialists are experts at minimally invasive and robotic surgery. If your ovarian cysts require surgical treatment, our physicians in the Gynecologic Oncology Center can offer extensive experience and vast resources. 

Overview

The ovaries, located on either side of the uterus, are where eggs develop and mature before being released during your monthly cycle. In some cases, your ovaries can develop cysts or sacs that are filled with fluid or other tissue. Ovarian cysts are common, affecting 3 million women each year in the United States.

In most cases, these cysts do not cause any problems and disappear without treatment. If the cyst does not disappear or ruptures, it may put you at risk of complications, including pain or internal bleeding.

Causes and risks

Cysts can form either as a result of the menstrual cycle or by abnormal cell growth.

In most cases, cysts develop during the menstrual cycle when your egg is not released properly from the follicle it developed in. The follicle can then grow and develop into a cyst.

Cysts not related to the menstrual cycle develop when the cells involved with creating eggs or covering the ovaries grow too large. These cysts can be cancerous or rupture, causing serious abdominal pain. Your doctor will evaluate the size and severity of your cyst and may recommend surgical removal. 

Types

Women commonly develop cysts of different types and sizes, including:

  • Functional cysts — Form as a result of normal ovulation or egg release. This is the most common type of cyst.
  • Dermoid cysts — Form from the same type of cells that develop into skin, hair, teeth or other types of tissues. If these cysts remain small they may not cause any symptoms, but larger cysts may cause pain.
  • Cystadenomas — Form on the outer surface of the ovary. These cysts contain fluid or gel and may cause pain as they grow larger.
  • Endometriomas — Form as a result of endometriosis. These cysts eventually become filled with blood and may bleed with each menstrual cycle.

Symptoms

Ovarian cysts may not cause problems or symptoms and often are not even detected. Larger cysts can cause pain, and in rare cases, a few cysts will become malignant, or cancerous. It is important that ovarian cysts be diagnosed and treated by a skilled medical provider experienced in ovarian conditions.

Cysts can also rupture, causing severe abdominal pain. Treatment is typically not required, though you may be given pain medication to manage the discomfort. 

Diagnosis and testing

Ovarian cysts are most commonly diagnosed during a physical pelvic examination. Additional tests may be needed to determine the location, type and size of an ovarian cyst. Tests may include:

Treatments

Once a diagnosis is made, a gynecologist will determine the best course of treatment based on your age, medical history and overall health. Treatment may not be needed if the cysts are small, benign and do not cause any pain or unexpected bleeding. Other treatment options may include:

  • Birth control pills — To prevent ovulation and the formation of some types of cysts
  • Oophorectomy — Surgical removal of one or both ovaries
  • Ovarian cystectomy — Surgical removal of the cyst or part of an ovary