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Ovarian Cysts

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What are ovaries?

The ovaries (OH-vuh-reez) are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The uterus (YOO-tur-uhss) is the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs and female hormones. Hormones are chemicals that control the way certain cells or organs function.

Every month, during a woman's menstrual (MEN-stroo-uhl) cycle, an egg grows inside an ovary. It grows in a tiny sac called a follicle (FAH-lih-cull). When an egg matures, the sac breaks open to release the egg. The egg travels through the fallopian (fuh-LOH-pee-ihn) tube to the uterus for fertilization. Then the sac dissolves. The empty sac becomes corpus luteum (LOO-tee-uhm). Corpus luteum makes hormones that help prepare for the next egg.

The ovaries are the main source of the female hormones estrogen (ESS-truh-juhn) and progesterone (proh-JESS-tuh-rohn). These hormones affect:

the way breasts and body hair grow

Diagram of the ovaries

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What are ovarian cysts?

A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. They can form anywhere in the body. Ovarian cysts (sists) form in or on the ovaries. The most common type of ovarian cyst is a functional cyst.

Functional cysts often form during the menstrual cycle. The two types are:

Other types of ovarian cysts are:

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What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts?

Many ovarian cysts don't cause symptoms. Others can cause:

If you have these symptoms, get help right away:

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How are ovarian cysts found?

Doctors most often find ovarian cysts during routine pelvic exams. The doctor may feel the swelling of a cyst on the ovary. Once a cyst is found, tests are done to help plan treatment. Tests include:

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How are cysts treated?

Watchful waiting. If you have a cyst, you may be told to wait and have a second exam in 1 to 3 months. Your doctor will check to see if the cyst has changed in size. This is a common treatment option for women who:

It may be an option for postmenopausal women.

Surgery. Your doctor may want to remove the cyst if you are postmenopausal, or if it:

The two main surgeries are:

Birth control pills. If you keep forming functional cysts, your doctor may prescribe birth control pills to stop you from ovulating. If you don’t ovulate, you are less likely to form new cysts. You can also use Depo-Provera®. It is a hormone that is injected into muscle. It prevents ovulation for 3 months at a time.

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Can ovarian cysts be prevented?

No, ovarian cysts cannot be prevented. The good news is that most cysts:

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you notice:

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When are women most likely to have ovarian cysts?

Most functional ovarian cysts occur during childbearing years. And most of those cysts are not cancerous. Women who are past menopause (ages 50­–70) with ovarian cysts have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. At any age, if you think you have a cyst, see your doctor for a pelvic exam.

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For More Information

For more information on ovarian cysts, call womenshealth.gov at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:

Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ), HHS
Phone number: (301) 427-1364
Internet address: http://www.ahrq.gov

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), NIH, HHS
Phone: (800) 370-2943
Internet Address: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/womenshealth

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)
Internet Address: http://familydoctor.org

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Phone number: (202) 638-5577
Internet address: http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp075.cfm

American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
Phone: (205) 978-5000
Internet Address: http://www.asrm.org

InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc. (INCIID)
Phone: (703) 379-9178
Internet Address: http://www.inciid.org

All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.

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Content last updated September 23, 2008.

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