Ovarian cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that develop in a woman's ovaries. Cysts are mostly harmless, but some may cause problems such as pain, bleeding or rupturing. In the latter case, surgery may be required to remove the cyst(s). It is important to understand the function of the ovaries and how these cysts may form.
Women normally have two ovaries, each located on both side of the uterus and each the size of a walnut that store and release eggs. One ovary produces one egg each month, and this process starts a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. The egg is enclosed in a sac called a follicle. An egg grows inside the ovary until estrogen (a hormone), signals the uterus to prepare itself for the egg. In turn, the lining of the uterus begins to thicken and prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg resulting in pregnancy. This cycle occurs each month and usually ends when the egg is not fertilized. All contents of the uterus are then expelled if the egg is not fertilized. This is called a menstrual period.
Ovarian cysts can affect women of all ages. The vast majority of ovarian cysts are considered functional . This means they occur normally and are not part of a disease process. Most ovarian cysts are benign, meaning they are not cancerous, and many disappear on their own in a matter of weeks without treatment. While cysts may be found in ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts typically represent a harmless (benign) condition or a normal process. Ovarian cysts occur most often during a woman's childbearing years.
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