When something seems off with your menstrual cycle, or you experience distressing abdominal or pelvic symptoms, your mind may go to scary places. Two conditions that may strike women are ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer. While you may not give your ovaries much thought, any changes in their normal functioning may cause you alarm. Knowing the difference between these two conditions can help you recognize an issue if it ever occurs.
9. Ovarian Cyst
According to the Office on Women’s Health, ovarian cysts are usually harmless, fluid-filled sacs that may form on the ovaries during ovulation. Many ovarian cysts cause no symptoms and resolve on their own within three months. The two most common types of ovarian cysts are follicle cysts and corpus luteum cysts. Follicle cysts form when the follicle containing an egg continues to grow instead of bursting and releasing an egg. Meanwhile, corpus luteum cysts occur when the follicle releases the egg and, instead of disintegrating, fills with fluid.
8. Ovarian Cyst Symptoms
Most women never realize their ovaries contain cysts, as these benign growths resolve on their own. However, there are times when a cyst grows to such a size that it causes pain and irritation. Symptoms of an ovarian cyst may include abdominal pain, a feeling of pressure or heaviness in your abdominal area, and bloating. The Mayo Clinic advises contacting your physician if you experience sudden, severe abdominal pain accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting. These symptoms may indicate that a cyst has ruptured or broken open.
7. Ovarian Cyst Treatment
Treatment for an ovarian cyst depends on the size and location of the cyst, as well as the severity of your symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may suggest waiting out the cyst to see if it will go away on its own. While hormone medications will not banish an existing cyst, your physician may recommend drugs such as oral contraceptives to prevent the formation of new cysts. If a cyst is unusually large, persistent, or painful, your doctor may advise having the growth surgically removed.
6. Ovarian Cyst Complications
While most ovarian cysts cause no lasting problems, excessively large cysts can cause harm. If a cyst continues to grow and eventually ruptures, you may experience sharp pain in the abdominal or pelvic area. In some cases, a ruptured cyst may result in excessive bleeding or a loss of fluids. This may then trigger a drop in blood pressure. According to Cedars-Sinai, it is rare but possible for an ovarian cyst to cause a twisting of the fallopian tube. This twisting is known as torsion and can prevent proper blood flow to the ovary.
5. Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovary go haywire and form cancerous tumors. Unlike benign cysts, these tumors require immediate medical treatment to prevent the cancer from spreading to other organs. According to the American Cancer Society, there are three types of ovarian tumors. The first type of tumor is an epithelial tumor that forms on the outside of the ovary. Meanwhile, the second type of tumor is a stromal tumor that grows in the tissues that produce female hormones. Lastly, germ cell tumors are rare tumors that form in the cells that produce the eggs.
4. Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
Signs of ovarian cancer are similar to those of an ovarian cyst. Early signs of ovarian cancer may include bloating, abdominal pain, feelings of pressure or fullness in the abdomen, and frequent urination. These symptoms tend to be more severe or more persistent than those related to ovarian cysts. Other symptoms may include extreme fatigue or weariness, indigestion, back pain, and painful sex. Changes in your menstrual cycle, such as unusually heavy bleeding or new irregularities in your period can be an indication of ovarian cancer. It is critical to contact your physician if you experience such symptoms.
3. Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
Yearly pelvic exams allow your doctor to check the size and shape of your uterus and note any changes or abnormalities. Unfortunately, ovarian cysts are often undetectable. If you experience symptoms of ovarian cancer, your doctor will start out by taking your history. Your physician will probably utilize imaging tests such as ultrasounds or CT scans to visualize your ovaries. Additionally, your doctor may order blood tests to check your blood counts and look for tumor markers. A biopsy taken during surgery can definitively diagnose this condition.
2. Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Some ovarian cancers are susceptible to local treatments, such as surgical removal or radiation. Others may require systemic treatment such as chemotherapy, hormone or hormone-blocking therapies, or targeted therapies. The American Cancer Society points out the differences between traditional chemotherapy and targeted therapies. The difference is that the targeted therapies do not attack normal, healthy cells as well as cancerous ones. Bevacizumab is a therapy that starves ovarian cancer tumors by affecting their blood supply. Meanwhile, PARP-inhibitors such as olaparib interfere with the DNA in ovarian cancer cells.
1. Ovarian Cancer Prognosis
As with any type of cancer, early intervention increases your long-term survival rate. According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, around 46% of women with ovarian cancer are alive five years following their diagnosis. When the cancer is caught in the earliest stages, before it has had a chance to spread, that number increases to around 90%. Younger women typically have a better survival rate than those diagnosed after the age of 65. Visiting your gynecologist on a yearly basis and paying attention to warning signs can help you catch signs of cancer early.