Even though ovarian cysts are common, it is natural to feel nervous or wonder if you are at risk of developing ovarian cancer if you discover them. However, having ovarian cysts does not mean you have ovarian cancer or an increased risk of cancer.

What is an Ovarian Cyst?

An ovarian cyst is a pocket of normal tissues or cells, typically filled with fluid, while ovarian tumors are solid masses composed of cancer cells. Ovarian cysts may come and go with your menstrual cycle and usually go away on their own – not producing any symptoms. For this reason, many women do not even know they have an ovarian cyst, but they can be found during a pelvic exam performed by a primary care doctor or gynecologist.

However, complex ovarian cysts may higher future risks. When ovarian cysts do cause symptoms, they can mirror those of ovarian cancer symptoms, including bloating, pain during intercourse, menstrual irregularities, abdominal pain, and sometimes frequent or urgency in urination.

Causes & Types of Ovarian Cysts

It’s normal for small cysts to develop naturally as part of the menstrual cycle, so ovarian cysts are fairly common in people with regular periods. The causes can be related to many different factors, including hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, severe pelvic infections, complications early in your pregnancy, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Ultimately, a cyst present on your ovary is usually not a cause for alarm, as ovarian cancers are cysts that are not the same. However, because ovarian cysts cause symptoms similar to ovarian cancer, it is always important to attend yearly women’s health visits and notify your doctor of any abnormalities you are experiencing. It is better to overreact because you may just be catching something more serious early on.

There are two different types of ovarian cysts, and treatment overall depends on which kind you are diagnosed with. There are functional cysts that form as a result of menstruation and are usually benign, meaning noncancerous, do not produce noticeable symptoms, and typically resolve on their own within a few months. The other type is pathological cysts which form as a result of abnormal cell growth and are fewer common cysts that have a higher chance of malignancy, meaning cancerous, though they are usually benign.

The Link Between Ovarian Cysts and Cancer

When a woman goes through menopause, it is less likely for her to form an ovarian cyst. When cysts do form after menopause, they come with a greater chance of becoming ovarian cancer. Menstrual disorders, such as endometriosis, can additionally cause ovarian cysts to develop. However, when cells in the ovaries multiply and grow uncontrollably and form a tumor, ovarian cancer can occur.

Unfortuantely, there is no way to know for certain if you will get ovarian cancer, and many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are not at high risk. However, several ovarian cancer risk factors exist, such as: being older or middle-aged, having a family history of ovarian cancer, having a genetic mutation or abnormality, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, a personal or familial history of breast, uterine, or colon cancer, a history of endometriosis or other menstrual disorders, never having given birth or a history of having trouble getting pregnant, or taking estrogen without progesterone for ten or more years.

These ovarian cancer risk factors will not solely determine whether or not you will have ovarian cancer. Still, by sharing your personal and family health history with your medical provider, you and your doctor can better assess your risks. If you have a direct family history of ovarian cancer, speak to your doctor about genetic counseling to receive a personalized risk assessment.

If you have an ovarian cyst accompanied by persistent and/or severe pain or any other unusual symptoms, consult your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated doctor as soon as possible.