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Gynecology

ovarian cysts/ovarian cancer

12/12/1998

Question:

I had a pelvic ultrasound which showed an ovarian cyst. In 4 weeks i will have another follow up ultrasound. What is the difference between ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer? Are they the same or two different topics?

Answer:

In a woman of reproductive age who hasn't gone through menopause, ovarian cysts are a normal, natural, monthly occurrence. Every month the ovary develops an egg to release for fertilization. This egg develops into a cyst that reaches its maximum size in the middle of the cycle (about 14 days prior to menses in a normal 28 day cycle) that ruptures and releases the egg. For the next 14 days before the menses, the ruptured cyst can continue as a cyst that produces the hormones needed if pregnancy follows. If pregnancy doesn't happen, then the cyst resolves. So, you can see that an ovarian cyst can be normal. Abnormal cysts are those that are large (greater than 6-8 centimeters), persist for months, or have an abnormal shape and form. Despite that, the vast majority of abnormal cysts are not cancerous. So, ovarian cancer can present as cysts but not all ovarian cysts are cancerous; in fact, the vast majority are not.

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Response by:

Thomas  A deHoop, MD Thomas A deHoop, MD
Formerly Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology
Director, Medical Student Education
No longer associated