It’s possible to develop harmless ovarian cysts, but some can be problematic. Here are some symptoms of ovarian cysts to watch out for…

Every month, women who are of reproductive age produce a small cyst prior to ovulation. Some of these cysts may grow slightly bigger every now and then, but they are generally harmless.

However, some women develop ‘non-functional’ ovarian cysts, where the cyst continues to grow in size.

When to treat ovarian cysts

So how do you know when to have cysts checked out and treated?

Dr Katrien Dehaeck, a leading gynaecologist at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town who specialises in vulvovaginal health, explains:

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“Cysts are simple, round fluid-filled sac-like structures that generally show no signs or symptoms. Cysts that develop in women of reproductive age are usually not harmful to a woman’s health, provided that they get smaller on repeat checking with an ultrasound. However, some women might experience pain and bleeding associated with them. If they are causing severe pain, it means that there is torsion, leakage or a haemorrhage; and torsion of a cyst often lead to an emergency laparoscopy or laparotomy.

“If simple cysts continue to grow or are larger than five centimetres, they should be investigated to exclude malignancy, borderline malignancy, or the presence of a benign tumour called an Adenoma. Cysts such as these should be monitored for a month or two via ultrasound to determine their nature, as most ovarian cysts don’t cause any symptoms even if they get larger. I would suggest that a tumour marker (CA125) be done and, if necessary, a laparoscopic removal”.

Other cysts that should be investigated further are cysts that contain solid areas when seen on ultrasound, endometriotic cysts and cysts that appear after menopause.

Related: Why we need to ditch vaginal hygiene products

Is there a way to avoid developing ovarian cysts?

“Unfortunately, women can’t really do anything to avoid cyst growth but functional cysts can be avoided through oral contraceptives. Unnecessary surgery is often performed to remove a simple cyst.

“Once a cyst has been diagnosed in premenopausal women, the correct approach would be to observe it for a while as it may disappear. Cysts that appear after the menopause or those containing solid areas need to be taken more seriously and removed to get a diagnosis,” adds Dr Dehaeck.

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