While postmenopausal women have a much lower risk of developing ovarian cysts, those that do are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Most ovarian cysts are so small that they cause no symptoms. Those that grow larger may cause:
- Pain in the lower abdomen on the side of the cyst. The pain may come and go and may be either sharp or dull.
- Abdominal pressure
Other less common symptom include:
- More frequent need to urinate
- Problems emptying the bladder or bowel completely
- Pelvic pain
- Aching in the lower back and thighs
- Breast tenderness
- Pain during sex
- Pain during your period
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Unexplained weight gain
Occasional complications which arise from ovarian cysts include:
- Rupture: If a cyst bursts it can lead to intense pain and internal bleeding
- Ovarian torsion: A large cyst may cause an ovary to move abnormally or twist producing severe pain.
- Ovarian cancer: Cysts in postmenopausal women have a chance of being malignant
Ovarian cysts cause swelling which can be identified by doctors through a pelvic exam. Once a cyst has been identified doctors will either monitor the cyst or perform further tests to identify the best treatment. Test may include:
- Ultrasound: Allows the doctor to identify the shape, size, location and makeup (solid or fluid) of the cyst.
- Pregnancy test: Rules out pregnancy.
- Hormone level test: Identifies hormone-related issues
- Blood test: In postmenopausal women a blood test can be used to measure the amount of cancer-antigen 125, a good indicator for ovarian cancer.
Most ovarian cysts will disappear on their own. This is particularly true of small, fluid filled cysts. As such the treatment is often to monitor the cyst and in some cases to use over the counter pain medication to manage pain.
In some cases a doctor may prescribe birth control such as the pill to decrease the chance of further cysts forming.
A cyst may require surgical removal in cases where it:
- Is large
- Doesn’t look like a functional cyst
- Is growing
- Persists through two or three menstrual cycles
- Causes pain or other symptoms
Some cysts can be removed from the ovary through ovarian cystectomy. In other cases the entire ovary may be removed in a procedure known as oophorectomy. In rare cases where the cyst is cancerous a doctor might recommend a hysterectomy, surgery which removes both ovaries, the fallopian tubes and the uterus.