A cyst on your ovary can be found during a pelvic exam. Depending on its size and whether it's fluid filled, solid or mixed, your doctor likely will recommend tests to determine its type and whether you need treatment. Possible tests include:
- Pregnancy test. A positive test might suggest that you have a corpus luteum cyst.
- Pelvic ultrasound. A wandlike device (transducer) sends and receives high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create an image of your uterus and ovaries on a video screen. Your doctor analyzes the image to confirm the presence of a cyst, help identify its location and determine whether it's solid, filled with fluid or mixed.
- Laparoscopy. Using a laparoscope — a slim, lighted instrument inserted into your abdomen through a small incision — your doctor can see your ovaries and remove the ovarian cyst. This is a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia.
CA 125 blood test. Blood levels of a protein called cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) often are elevated in women with ovarian cancer. If your cyst is partially solid and you're at high risk of ovarian cancer, your doctor might order this test.
Elevated CA 125 levels can also occur in noncancerous conditions, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Treatment depends on your age, the type and size of your cyst, and your symptoms. Your doctor might suggest:
Watchful waiting. In many cases you can wait and be re-examined to see if the cyst goes away within a few months. This is typically an option — regardless of your age — if you have no symptoms and an ultrasound shows you have a simple, small, fluid-filled cyst.
Your doctor will likely recommend that you get follow-up pelvic ultrasounds at intervals to see if your cyst changes in size.
- Medication. Your doctor might recommend hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills, to keep ovarian cysts from recurring. However, birth control pills won't shrink an existing cyst.
Surgery. Your doctor might suggest removing a cyst that is large, doesn't look like a functional cyst, is growing, continues through two or three menstrual cycles, or causes pain.
Some cysts can be removed without removing the ovary (ovarian cystectomy). In some cases, your doctor might suggest removing the affected ovary and leaving the other intact (oophorectomy).
If a cystic mass is cancerous, your doctor will likely refer you to a gynecologic cancer specialist. You might need to have your uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed (total hysterectomy) and possibly chemotherapy or radiation. Your doctor is also likely to recommend surgery when an ovarian cyst develops after menopause.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care provider or a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect women (gynecologist).
What you can do
Make a list of:
- Your symptoms, including those that seem unrelated to the reason for the appointment, and when they began
- All medications, vitamins and other supplements you take and the doses
- Your medical history, including menstrual irregularities
- Questions to ask your doctor
Take a family member or friend with you, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
Questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's likely causing my symptoms?
- What tests might I need?
- Are my cysts likely to resolve on their own or will I need treatment?
- Do you have printed materials or brochures I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Questions your doctor might ask include:
- How often do you have symptoms?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- Do your symptoms seem related to your menstrual cycle?
- Does anything improve your symptoms?
- Does anything make your symptoms worse?