What Women Need to Know About Ovarian Cysts and Cancer

The ovaries are small organs found deep within a woman’s pelvis. They are integral parts of the female reproductive system and are responsible for producing the eggs (oocytes) essential for human fertilization. During ovulation, one of the ovaries releases a mature egg from its sac into the fallopian tubes. The sac typically dissolves soon after. However, there are times when a sac remains and becomes filled with fluid or air, developing into a cyst.

Cysts that form in or around the ovaries may cause mild symptoms or no noticeable symptoms at all. As a result, they can go unnoticed for a very long time.

Are ovarian cysts cancerous?

It is important to understand that just because you’ve had, or have, ovarian cysts does not mean you have, or will develop, cancer. Many women develop ovarian cysts or benign (noncancerous) ovarian tumors at some point in their reproductive years. In fact, “most women make at least one follicle or corpus luteum cyst every month. You may not be aware that you have a cyst unless there is a problem that causes the cyst to grow or if multiple cysts form,” according to the Office on Women’s Health.

Although rare, some ovarian cysts are malignant (cancerous). Fortunately, the vast majority are benign and most women will never develop ovarian cancer.

What are the types of ovarian cysts?

Cysts that develop during a woman’s menstrual cycle are called functional cysts.

Functional ovarian cysts have two types:

  • A follicle cyst is the result of an egg failing to break out of its sac. These types of cysts usually disappear on their own within a span of one to three months.
  • A corpus luteum cyst arises when a sac fails to regress after releasing its egg, allowing fluid to accumulate inside. In many cases, these types of ovarian cysts resolve on their own within a few weeks.

Sometimes, an egg can mature in its sac but is never released. As a menstrual menstrual cycle repeats, the sac may grow larger and develop into multiple small cysts. This common condition is known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

There are a few other types of ovarian cysts and tumors, including:

  • An ovarian endometrioma can form if a woman has endometriosis, which is a condition that causes the endometrial tissue lining the uterus to grow in other areas of the body. If this tissue attaches to one of the ovaries, an ovarian endometrioma can emerge.
  • An ovarian cystadenoma is a liquid-filled cyst that arises from cells on the surface of an ovary. Most cystadenomas are benign, but some can be cancerous.
  • An ovarian dermoid cyst, also referred to as a teratoma (a common variety of germ cell tumors), consists of different cell types. These tumors are usually benign, although they can sometimes be cancerous as well.

It is most common for noncancerous cysts to develop from age 12 to 51 (the average woman’s reproductive years). If ovarian cysts develop before a child’s first menstrual period, a doctor must investigate further. The same goes for menopausal women, as half of all ovarian cancers occur in females over the age of 60.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer?

As mentioned, it is possible to have an ovarian cyst and not realize it. The symptoms can range from nonexistent and mild to moderate and severe. Abdominal bloating and pressure, frequent urination, menstrual irregularities, unusual hair growth, weight gain, and adult acne are some of the common indicators. Difficulty balancing blood sugar, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and heartbreaking infertility are also known symptoms.

Similar to a benign ovarian cyst, a malignant tumor sometimes causes no or mild symptoms at first. When symptoms occur, they are similar to those of ovarian cysts and can include:

  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Abdominal pain and pressure
  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Feeling full after eating very little food
  • Having trouble eating
  • Increased and frequent urge to urinate
  • Feeling pain during intercourse

How are ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Women might experience symptoms such as recurrent menstrual irregularities first, which will lead to imagining studies that play a crucial role in detecting ovarian cysts and tumors. Others, however, may not know about their ovarian cyst or tumor until a gynecologist detects it during a routine pelvic exam.

If a doctor suspects an ovarian cyst or tumor, they will likely order imaging tests, such as an MRI scan, to examine the ovaries. They may also test the blood for the tumor marker CA-125, as well as perform a biopsy. These procedures will help determine whether an ovarian cyst or tumor is benign or malignant.

What are the treatments for ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer?

Most ovarian cysts go away on their own without needing treatment. If an ovarian cyst does not go away on its own or causes pain, a doctor may recommend removing it through a laparoscopy or open surgery.

In case of an ovarian cancer diagnosis, a doctor may recommend one or a combination of the following conventional treatments for ovarian cancer:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • A total hysterectomy, including the removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries.

These treatments, however, come with their share of side effects. Fatigue, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, anemia, increased susceptibility to infections are highly associated with chemotherapy. Meanwhile, radiation therapy can cause some of the same side effects as chemotherapy, plus a type of swelling called lymphedema.

As for a full or complete hysterectomy, the procedure removes the entire female reproductive system; resulting in the loss of a woman’s ability to bear children.

Are there alternative treatments for ovarian cancer?

Alternative treatments offer natural solutions to help maintain recovery while regulating the side effects from more conventional therapies and medications. If you are looking for ovarian cancer alternative treatment options, New Hope Unlimited can help. Contact us today at 480-666-1403 to schedule a consultation.

What is the outlook for ovarian cysts and cancer?

The long-term outlook for ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer varies depending on the diagnosis. Most ovarian cysts resolve within a few months, even without treatment. The outlook for ovarian cancer depends on multiple factors, including the size of the tumor, how deeply the tumor has invaded tissues in and around the ovaries, and if the tumor has spread to distant areas of the body. In general, the outlook or prognosis will be better if a doctor diagnoses and treats ovarian cancer in its early stages.

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