While undergoing a routine check up, the doctor presses on your lower abdomen and asks you if you feel any pain. He or she may be looking for ovarian cysts, small collections of fluid within the ovaries. Ovarian cysts don’t always indicate ovarian cancer, but they can, especially after menopause.
During the menstrual cycle, ovaries will frequently develop benign cysts, called functional cysts. In fact, you may not even know you have them. Cysts can range from no symptoms at all, to severe pain.
These cysts can also be part of other conditions, like endometriosis, which is not ovarian cancer, but rather another reproductive system disorder that occurs when the lining of the uterus grows in other places as well.
In cases where symptoms are not noticeable or barely noticeable, cysts can be very difficult to diagnose. Women experiencing subtle symptoms report feeling gassy, lower abdominal pressure, or urinating more than normal. Some women also experience changes in bowel movements, or small changes in their gastrointestinal tract with benign or cancerous cysts.
When ovarian cysts are painful, they are easier to spot, but this is rare. Significant symptoms can include:
Most simple cysts are not cause for alarm and rarely develop into ovarian cancer. However, for women who have undergone menopause — typically between the ages of 50 and 70 — cysts are more likely to be ovarian cancer. A good rule of thumb is for anyone in that age group, or anyone with symptoms of an ovarian cyst that doesn’t go away, to be tested to determine if the cyst is cancerous. In menopausal women, these symptoms are not expected, so women experiencing them should consult their doctor.
A number of tests can be performed to determine if the cyst is cancerous or benign.