A woman has two ovaries (small organs with one on each side of her uterus). Their purpose is to produce hormones, one of which is estrogen in order to trigger menstruation. Each month these ovaries release a small egg that travels down the fallopian tube for potential fertilization. This egg release cycle is known as ‘ovulation’.
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms within the ovaries. This is a common occurrence, especially during the woman’s child-bearing years. There are various types of these cysts with the most common being a ‘functional cyst’. This cyst forms during the process of ovulation. This can be caused by any of the following two factors.
1. The egg was not released.
2. The sac it was released into did not dissolve once the egg was released.
There are a few other types of cysts that include:
1. Cystadenomas: Cysts formed from cells lying on the ovary surface, usually filled with fluid.
2. Polycystic Ovaries: Also known as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), this is where the follicles that the eggs are placed in for maturation fail to open. The result if the formation of cysts.
3. Dermatoid Cysts: Cysts containing tissue that is similar to the tissue in other body parts including hair, teeth, and skin.
In the same way that tumors form in other parts of the body, they can form in a woman’s ovaries. When they are labeled ‘benign’ it means they are non-cancerous. If labeled ‘malignant’ they are cancerous. There are 3 types of these ovarian tumors:
A. Germ Cell Tumors: These begin within the cells that have the job of producing the eggs. Most are benign, however, they can be cancerous sometimes.
B. Epithelial Cell Tumors: These tumors begin from cells out on the ovary surface and are the most common.
C. Stromal Tumors: These start within the cells who do the job of producing female hormones.
While the cause of ovarian cancer is not exactly known, there are several risk factors associated with it as outlined below.
3. Hormone Replacement Therapy
4. Never Having Children or Breastfeeding
6. Family/Personal History of Breast, Colorectal, or Ovarian Cancer. If the BRCA gene is present, risk is increased.
A gynecologis/obstetrician or regular physician might feel a lump during one of your routine pelvic exams. The majority of ovarian growths are benign. However, some still may be cancerous. That’s why it’s so important to check out any growth spotted. This is especially true for postmenopausal women, who should be checked regularly because of their higher risk for ovarian cancer.
If you receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, then your physician will utilize diagnostic test results for determining if the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries. If yes, then the physician will use those same results to see just how far it has gone. This is a diagnostic procedure known as ‘staging’ and helps your doctor plan your treatment.