Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Ovarian cysts are closed, sac-like structures within the ovary that are filled with a liquid
or semisolid substance.
Ovarian cysts form for numerous reasons.
Pain in the abdomen or pelvis is the most common symptom of an ovarian
cyst, but most are asymptomatic.
Most cysts are diagnosed by ultrasound or physical
The treatment of an ovarian cyst depends upon its likely diagnosis and varies from observation and monitoring to surgical
What is the ovary and what are ovarian cysts?
The ovary is one of a pair of reproductive glands in women that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of a
walnut. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and female hormones estrogen and
progesterone. The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. They also regulate the
menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Ovarian cysts are closed, sac-like structures within an ovary that contain a liquid, gaseous, or semisolid substance.
"Cyst" is merely a general term for a fluid-filled structure, which may or may
not represent a tumor or neoplasm (new growth). If it is a tumor, it may be
benign or malignant.
The ovary is also referred to as the female gonad.
What causes ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts form for numerous reasons. The most common type is a follicular cyst,
which results from the growth of a follicle. A follicle is the normal
fluid-filled sac that contains an egg. Follicular cysts form when the follicle
grows larger than normal during the menstrual cycle and does not open to release
the egg. Usually, follicular cysts resolve spontaneously over the course of days
to months. Cysts can contain blood (hemorrhagic cysts) from leakage of
blood into the egg sac.
Another type of ovarian cyst that is related to the menstrual cycle is a corpus
luteum cyst. The corpus luteum is an area of tissue within the ovary that
occurs after an egg has been released from a follicle. If a pregnancy doesn't
occur, the corpus luteum usually breaks down and disappears. It may, however,
fill with fluid or blood and persist as a cyst on the ovary. Usually, this cyst
is found on only one side, produces no symptomsand resolves spontaneously.
is a condition in which cells that normally grow inside as a lining of the uterus (womb), instead grow outside
of the uterus in other locations. The ovary is a common site for endometriosis. When endometriosis involves the ovary, the area of endometrial tissue may grow and bleed over time, forming a blood-filled
cyst with red- or brown-colored contents called an endometrioma, sometimes referred to as a
chocolate cyst or endometrioma. The condition known as polycystic
ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by the presence of multiple small cysts
within both ovaries. PCOS is associated with a number of hormonal problems and
is the most common cause of infertility in women.
Both benign and malignant tumors of the ovary may also
be cystic. Occasionally, the tissues of the ovary develop abnormally to form
other body tissues such as hair or teeth. Cysts with these abnormal tissues are
really tumors called denign cystic teratomas or dermoid cysts.
Infections of the pelvic organs can involve the ovaries and Fallopian tubes. In
severe cases, pus-filled cystic spaces may be present on or around the ovary or
tubes. These are known as tubo-ovarian abscesses.
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
A cyst is a closed sac- or bladder-like structure that is
not a normal part of the tissue where it is found. Cysts are common and can
occur anywhere in the body in persons of any age. Cysts usually contain a
gaseous, liquid, or semisolid substance. Cysts vary in size; they may be
detectable only under a microscope or they can grow so large that they displace
normal organs and tissues. The outer wall of a cyst is called the capsule.