Ovarian cysts are fluid filled sacs that can form in the ovaries. They are very common and can affect women of any age. They are more frequent in women of childbearing age because they are linked to ovulation. Very often a cyst develops and disappears without the woman even knowing that she had one. Cysts in pre-menopausal women are not known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer, though can produce symptoms similar to those for ovarian cancer.
The most common type of cyst is a functional cyst. Other types of cysts include polycystic ovaries, cysts caused by endometriosis (a condition where the lining of the womb [endometrium] grows outside the body of the womb), cystenadomas and dermoid cysts.
The approach to managing functional cysts will depend on a number of factors. Your GP may recommend a CA125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound (TVU). The result of these will be combined with other factors, including whether you’ve been through the menopause yet to calculate the likelihood (risk) of the cyst being malignant (cancerous).
Many cysts will disappear naturally with no intervention required. Others which are considered low risk will be monitored every three to six months by another ultrasound scan. Surgery is only considered if the cyst has the potential for being cancerous, or because it is large and could cause complications or uncomfortable symptoms.
A tumour (also known as a neoplasm) is any abnormal mass of tissue (collection of cells). Like a cyst, a tumour can form in any part of the body. A tumour can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
- Benign tumours are not cancerous. They can often be removed, and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body.
- Malignant tumours are cancerous and are made up of cells that grow out of control. Cells in these tumours can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes cells move away from the original (primary) cancer site and spread to other organs and bones through the blood stream where they can continue to grow and form another tumour at that site. This is known as metastatic or secondary cancer. Metastases keep the name of the original cancer location, so ovarian cancer that has spread to the liver is still called ovarian cancer.
To determine whether a cyst or tumour is benign or malignant, a sample of the affected tissue — or, in some cases, the entire suspicious area — is removed and studied under a microscope. This is known as a biopsy.