Anatomy of the Ovary
There are two ovaries in a woman’s pelvis, located on either side of the uterus. Ovaries are small and look like almonds.The main roles of ovaries are to make female hormones and store eggs. Every month during a woman’s reproductive years, an ovary releases an egg. The egg travels to the uterus through a fallopian tube. The ovaries also make most of the female hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. These hormones control the development of certain parts of a female, such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. They also control the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
The ovaries, located on either side of the uterus, commonly develop cysts or sacs that are filled with fluid or other tissue. These cysts typically do not cause problems or symptoms and often are not even detected. Larger cysts can cause pain, and more rarely, a few cysts will become malignant, or cancerous. For this reason, it is important that ovarian cysts be diagnosed and treated by a skilled medical provider experienced in ovarian conditions.
Types of Cysts
Women commonly develop cysts of different types and sizes, including:
- Functional cysts – formed as a result of normal ovulation or egg release. This is the most common type of cyst.
- Dermoid cysts – formed from the same type of cells that develop into skin, hair, teeth or other types of tissues. If these cysts remain small they may not cause any symptoms, but larger cysts may cause pain.
- Cystadenomas - formed on the outer surface of the ovary. These cysts contain fluid or gel, and they may cause pain as they grow larger.
- Endometriomas – formed as a result of endometriosis. These cysts eventually become filled with blood and will bleed with each menstrual cycle.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Ovarian cysts may be detected during a routine pelvic exam . Additional tests may be needed to determine the location, type and size of an ovarian cyst. Tests may include:
- Vaginal ultrasound
- Blood tests
- Once a diagnosis is made, your gynecologist will determine the best course of treatment based on your age, medical history and overall health. Treatment may not be needed if the cysts are small, benign and not causing any pain or unexpected bleeding. Other treatment options may include:
- Birth control pills – to prevent ovulation and the formation of some types of cysts
- Oophorectomy - surgical removal of one or both ovaries
- Ovarian Cystectomy - surgical removal or part of an ovary to treat ovarian tumors or cysts