Ovarian cysts

Diagnosis of ovarian cysts

Your Dignity Health gynecologist may suspect an ovarian cyst based on your description of symptoms. Additional tests will be necessary to confirm (or rule out) the diagnosis.

Diagnosing ovarian cysts may include:

  • Physical exam. A doctor may feel a cyst during a pelvic exam.
  • Ultrasound. An ultrasound can pinpoint the location, size, and makeup of ovarian cysts. Abdominal ultrasound and vaginal ultrasound can evaluate ovarian cysts. With an abdominal ultrasound, a technician moves a sensor over a woman’s lower abdomen. A vaginal ultrasound uses a probe inserted inside the vagina.
  • Blood tests. If you are past menopause or at increased risk for ovarian cancer, your doctor may order CA-125 testing along with other diagnostic studies. CA-125 is a biomarker for certain cancers, including ovarian cancer. Keep in mind that higher-than-normal CA-125 levels can also be due to a noncancerous condition. Depending on your test results, your doctor may recommend additional cancer screening.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the size of the cyst, the type of cyst, and whether the cyst is causing pain or other problems.

The most common treatment strategies include:

  • Monitoring. If your cyst isn’t causing any uncomfortable symptoms, your doctor may suggest rechecking it via ultrasound in a few months. Most ovarian cysts go away without treatment, so if you’re not in pain, monitoring may be a good option.
  • Birth control pills. Oral contraceptives will not get rid of an existing cyst but can prevent the development of more cysts.
  • Surgery. If a cyst is causing discomfort or has persisted and is growing, surgery may be used to remove the cyst from the ovary. In most cases, doctors can remove ovarian cysts through tiny incisions in the abdomen and preserve the ovary. If the cyst is large or suspected of being cancerous, your doctor may remove one or both ovaries.

At Dignity Health, we’re here to help you feel your best. Reach out to us with questions about ovarian cysts or any gynecology or women’s health topic.

Recovery

The outlook for most premenopausal women who have ovarian cysts is good. Generally, cysts will clear up on their own.

Ovarian cysts do not typically make it harder to get pregnant on their own. Still, some of the underlying conditions that cause cysts, like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, can lead to infertility if they are left untreated. 

For postmenopausal women who develop ovarian cysts, your doctor may take a more aggressive approach because the risk of developing a cancerous cyst or ovarian cancer after menopause is higher.

If you are a candidate for surgery, your recovery will last a couple of weeks as you heal from your procedure. This surgery won’t prevent new cysts from forming, but you will be free of pain from the original cyst.

Who is a candidate for ovarian cyst surgery?

Most doctors will take a “wait and see” approach to treat ovarian cysts. However, in some cases, surgery is necessary. Your doctor will likely recommend surgery in the following scenarios:

  • You have cysts in both ovaries
  • A cyst they’ve been watching isn’t going away (within two to three months)
  • You have a cyst and have never had a menstrual period, have been through menopause, or use birth control pills
  • An ultrasound suggests it is not a functional cyst
  • Your doctor has concerns about ovarian cancer

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.