Ovarian cysts are usually benign, and most grow, diminish and disappear without any noticeable symptoms. Others, especially large growths, may require surgical removal. All types of ovarian cysts have the potential to twist or rupture.Functional Cysts
Functional cysts are the most common type of growth on the ovaries, especially during a woman’s reproductive years. A developing egg forms in a follicle, or sac. When the egg is mature, the sac ruptures, and the egg is released. A corpus luteum—a type of tissue cover—immediately forms over the ruptured follicle.
If a mature follicle (called a graafian follicle) fails to rupture, a functional cyst forms in the ovary. The growth rarely gets larger than 1 1/2 to 2 inches, and usually causes no symptoms or only minor discomfort. The growth gradually disappears over the course of a few menstrual cycles.
Functional cysts may also occur if the corpus luteum fills with blood or fluid. A corpus luteum cyst often causes pain in the affected ovary. The pain is only felt on the side of the cystic ovary. The condition usually resolves itself over time, and can be associated with late menstrual periods and bleeding between periods. Report any such conditions to your doctor, as these symptoms can also indicate an ectopic pregnancy (when pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus).
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also called polycystic ovaries, is a condition caused by hormone imbalances. The hormone imbalance causes multiple functional cysts to develop. Polycystic ovaries are most often seen in younger women and teenagers. The condition has specific symptoms and treatment requirements.
Endometriosis occurs when the endometrial tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. In approximately fifty percent of all endometriosis cases, the excess tissue grows in the ovaries.
During menstruation, normal endometrial tissue bleeds. The abnormal endometrial growths also bleed, causing blood-filled sacs, or endometrioma, to form. These endometrioma are commonly found in the ovaries and are referred to as “chocolate cysts,” because the blood found in them is thick and dark brown.
Endometrioma may not present with any symptoms, or may be associated with painful menstrual cramping, bowel movement pain, or pain during intercourse. A growth may become as large as a grapefruit, and can contribute to infertility.
In rare cases, an endometrioma may rupture. The contents of the growth can enter the pelvic cavity, causing abdominal discomfort. If the contents cover the surface of the intestinal or reproductive organs, scarring may result. Depending on its location, this scarring may cause pain or infertility.
The cysts discussed above are the result of normal reproduction, endometriosis or hormone imbalances. An ovarian neoplasm is an abnormal growth in an ovary that cannot be traced to these events. The growth is abnormal, and has the potential to be malignant. The three most common ovarian neoplasms are serous cystadenoma, mucinous cystadenoma and dermoid cysts, also called ovarian teratomas.
A serous cystadenoma is filled with watery fluid, and ranges in size from two to six inches. The growth is usually benign, but does have the potential to become cancerous. Women between the ages of thirty and forty are the most likely candidates for this type of neoplasm, but the condition can occur any time between ages twenty and fifty.
A mucinous cystadenoma is filled with sticky, thick fluid, and is most often diagnosed in women between thirty and fifty years of age. The growth is usually six to twelve inches in diameter. The growths are usually benign, and cause no symptoms unless a large growth presses against other organs and interferes with their function.
Left untreated, mucinous cystadenomas can continue to grow—in rare cases, they have grown to over a hundred pounds. Most cases are found during regular gynecological examinations, and are caught before they reach such exaggerated proportions.
Dermoid Cysts (Teratoma)
Dermoid cysts contain skin, hair, bone or dental tissue. Germ cells in the ovary produce eggs. As such, they contain the information necessary to produce all forms of human tissue. If a neoplasm begins in a germ cell, a dermoid cyst develops. The resulting cysts are sometimes called teratomas, because some are made up of skin tissue and hair tissue.
A teratoma is usually two to four inches in size and may cause no symptoms unless it presses against the bladder, rectum, or intestine. Women between the ages of twenty and forty are most likely to develop a teratoma, although small growths may be present from birth. The neoplasm is usually benign. One percent of all cases are malignant.
Theca Lutein Cysts
Theca lutein cysts are often found in both ovaries. The growths usually disappear by themselves, but may also rupture. Theca lutein cysts are not common. They can be associated with two rare gynecological disorders: hydatidiform moles and choriocarcinomas.
Choriocarcinoma is an aggressive uterine cancer that develops after pregnancy or hydatidiform mole. Although the cancer spreads quickly, it responds very well to chemotherapy. It has a ninety percent cure rate, even after metastasis (the spread of cancer cells to other organs).
A hydatidiform mole (also called molar pregnancy) is a rare benign tumor or mass that develops in the uterus. It is essentially an over development of tissue that would normally become placental tissue. Often, no fetus actually develops. The cause of this abnormality is not known.