Can ovarian cysts be cancerous?
Some can be, but the vast majority are not. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in or on the ovaries, and they fall into two general categories. The most common type, called functional cysts, occur as a normal part of the menstrual cycle. Every month, your ovaries grow structures called follicles in preparation for releasing an egg. If a follicle doesn't break open and release an egg, a cyst can form. Many women will get this type of cyst each month; they're usually small and harmless, and they disappear on their own within two or three menstrual cycles.
You can also develop growths that are unrelated to ovulation. Generally referred to as neoplastic cysts, most are benign. However, in rare cases, one of them may be cancerous. A cyst on the ovary is more likely to indicate cancer if you've already gone through menopause. (In general, the risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age; meanwhile, roughly 8 percent of postmenopausal women develop cysts every year.)
Some symptoms of cysts can be nonspecific, but tell your doctor if you've experienced pressure or pain, or a feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount. Pelvic exams may help detect and monitor cysts, and ultrasounds and a CA-125 blood test can give better clues as to whether a cyst is cancerous. If a mass persists or continues to grow after more than six to eight weeks, has solid parts or walled sections (rather than being strictly fluid-filled) and its own blood flow, surgery may be the next step.
Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.