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Can an Ovarian Cyst Be Cancerous?

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Updated April 17, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

While rare, certain types of ovarian cysts may be cancerous.

Ovarian cysts are very commonly found in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome and are, in fact, one of the defining characteristics of the disease. However, women who don’t have PCOS can also get ovarian cysts.

Every month, a single egg follicle develops in the ovary and eventually releases the egg in a process known as ovulation. Sometimes, ovulation will not occur and the follicle will continue to grow larger and larger as the fluid builds up inside it. Most of the time, this fluid will eventually reabsorb into the body and the cyst will disappear on its own. In fact, many women don’t even know that they have (or have had) an ovarian cyst.

There are rare types of cysts which are, in fact, ovarian cancer. These cysts tend to have solid matter extending into the center of the cyst. Whenever solid tissue is seen in an ovarian cyst, your doctor will probably want to evaluate it by surgically removing it and performing a biopsy. While most of the time these cysts will be benign (non-cancerous), they may still require treatment or removal.

If you start having symptoms like pelvic pain or discomfort, your doctor may want to check to see if you have an ovarian cyst. This can be done through a pelvic exam, where the doctor can actually feel the ovary to see if there is a cyst there, or by looking at the ovaries with an ultrasound. On an ultrasound, he can tell whether the cyst is mostly fluid or if there is solid tissue inside.

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