Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the ovary. They are common and usually form during ovulation. Ovulation happens when the ovary releases an egg each month. Many women with ovarian cysts don't have symptoms. The cysts are usually harmless.
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. It can form in many places in the body. Ovarian cysts form in or on the ovaries.
The most common types of ovarian cysts (called functional cysts) form during the menstrual cycle. They are usually benign (not cancerous).
The two most common types of cysts are:
Other types of benign ovarian cysts are less common:
In some women, the ovaries make many small cysts. This is called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS can cause problems with the ovaries and with getting pregnant.
Malignant (cancerous) cysts are rare. They are more common in older women. Cancerous cysts are ovarian cancer. For this reason, ovarian cysts should be checked by your doctor. Most ovarian cysts are not cancerous.
Ovarian cysts are common in women with regular periods. 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. About 8% of premenopausal women develop large cysts that need treatment.1
Ovarian cysts are less common after menopause. Postmenopausal women with ovarian cysts are at higher risk for ovarian cancer.
At any age, see your doctor if you think you have a cyst. See your doctor also if you have symptoms such as bloating, needing to urinate more often, pelvic pressure or pain, or abnormal (unusual) vaginal bleeding. These can be signs of a cyst or other serious problem.
The most common causes of ovarian cysts include:
Most ovarian cysts are small and don't cause symptoms.
If a cyst does cause symptoms, you may have pressure, bloating, swelling, or pain in the lower abdomen on the side of the cyst. This pain may be sharp or dull and may come and go.
If a cyst ruptures, it can cause sudden, severe pain.
If a cyst causes twisting of an ovary, you may have pain along with nausea and vomiting.
Less common symptoms include:
If you have symptoms of ovarian cysts, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may do a pelvic exam to feel for swelling of a cyst on your ovary.
If a cyst is found, your doctor will either watch and wait or order tests to help plan treatment. Tests include:
Yes, sometimes. If your doctor told you that you have an ovarian cyst and you have any of the following symptoms, get medical help right away:
These symptoms could mean that your cyst has broken open, or ruptured. Sometimes, large, ruptured cysts can cause heavy bleeding.
Maybe. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 5% to 10% of women have surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. Only 13% to 21% of these cysts are cancerous.2
Your cyst may require surgery if you are past menopause or if your cyst:
If your cyst does not require surgery, your doctor may:
If your cyst requires surgery, your doctor will either remove just the cyst or the entire ovary.
Surgery can be done in two different ways:
Yes, some ovarian cysts can become cancerous. But most ovarian cysts are not cancerous.
The risk for ovarian cancer increases as you get older. Women who are past menopause with ovarian cysts have a higher risk for ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk for ovarian cancer. Screening for ovarian cancer is not recommended for most women.3 This is because testing can lead to "false positives." A false positive is a test result that says a woman has ovarian cancer when she does not.
Typically, no. Most ovarian cysts do not affect your chances of getting pregnant. Sometimes, though, the illness causing the cyst can make it harder to get pregnant. Two conditions that cause ovarian cysts and affect fertility are:
Ovarian cysts are common during pregnancy. Typically, these cysts are benign (not cancerous) and harmless.4 Ovarian cysts that continue to grow during pregnancy can rupture or twist or cause problems during childbirth. Your doctor will monitor any ovarian cyst found during pregnancy.
No, you cannot prevent functional ovarian cysts if you are ovulating. If you get ovarian cysts often, your doctor may prescribe hormonal birth control to stop you from ovulating. This will help lower your risk of getting new cysts.
For more information on ovarian cysts, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
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Page last updated: April 28, 2017.
Content last reviewed: August 18, 2014.