Ovarian Cysts (cont.)
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What are ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that develop in a woman's ovaries. Most cysts are harmless, but some may cause problems such as rupture, bleeding, or pain. Moreover, surgery may be required in certain situations to remove the cyst(s). It is important to understand the function of the ovaries and how these cysts develop.
What are the ovaries and what is their function?
Women normally have two ovaries that store and release eggs. Each ovary is about the size of a walnut, and one ovary is located on each side of the uterus. One ovary releases an egg each month, and this process is called ovulation. Ovulation occurs in roughly the middle of a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. The egg is enclosed in a sac called a follicle. An egg grows inside the ovary while estrogen (a hormone released by the ovary) prepares the uterus for a developing pregnancy. Estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to grow and thicken so as to prepare for implantation of the fertilized egg resulting in a pregnancy. This cycle occurs each month. If the egg is not fertilized, the contents of the uterus are then expelled resulting in the onset of a menstrual period. The first day of bleeding is considered the first day of the ensuing menstrual cycle.
Who gets ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts are common and affect women of all ages. The vast majority of ovarian cysts are functional (i.e. they are a by-product of hormonal fluctuations that occur during a menstrual cycle). Although they may become problematic they do not indicate a specific disease process. Most ovarian cysts are not cancerous (benign), and many disappear on their own without treatment over the course of several weeks. While malignant cysts may be found in conjunction with ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts are typically not cancerous. Ovarian cysts most commonly occur during a woman's childbearing years.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/18/2016
Wayne Blocker, MD
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