Being Well

Ovarian Cysts and Cancer: Why Managing Your Gynecologic Health Is Important

Keeping up with your annual gynecologic exams is one of the best ways to stay in control of your health. If concerning symptoms crop up in between checkups, see your doctor.

Detecting ovarian cysts and cancer is a vital part of your health as a woman. That includes becoming established as a gynecological patient and staying up to date with your routine checkups and tests. One of the benefits of being an established patient is that your baseline is part of routine examinations. Your OB-GYN gets to know your body and can evaluate your symptoms based on how they deviate from your normal.

That’s good, because ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death in women. It’s called the “silent killer” because you may experience vague symptoms until the condition reaches late stages. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2016, more than 22,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

These statistics are scary, but women experiencing these symptoms are far more likely to be diagnosed with a benign ovarian cyst than cancer. It’s still important to follow up with your gynecologist and have these symptoms checked out to alleviate worry.

The Difference Between Ovarian Cysts and Cancer

The Mayo Clinic explains that ovarian cysts are sacs of fluid, air or mucus that occur in the ovary. They’re generally benign and often don’t require any treatment at all, although some may require surgery if they get too large, cause the fallopian tubes to twist or if they burst. Types of ovarian cysts include:

  • Endometriomas: A cyst that may occur as part of the condition endometriosis.
  • Cystadenomas: A liquid-filled cyst that develops from the tissue of the ovary
  • Dermoid cysts: Cysts that are made up from benign tissue including teeth and hair, and may occur on the face, brain or ovary.
  • Follicular cysts: These occur when the follicle doesn’t release the egg and just turns into a cyst instead. This is a functional cyst, meaning it develops as part of the function of the menstrual cycle, and generally goes away on its own in time.
  • Corpus luteum cysts: They occur when fluid builds up inside the follicle after the egg has been released. They’re also functional cysts.
  • Epithelial ovarian carcinoma: According to the American Cancer Society, the most common form of ovarian cancer is this solid tumor (a mass of tissue rather than a sac).

Symptoms to Watch For

It’s important to stay on schedule with your routine gynecologic exams to keep your health on track. That way, you’re equipped to catch any developing issues early, when they’re more treatable. Even after menopause, you should continue to get exams, and see your doctor if symptoms, such as those listed for ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer below, become persistent.

As the American Cancer Society explains, you want to look out for bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, changes in menstruation, pain during sex, back pain, constipation and fatigue. As well, you may feel like you have to urinate constantly and/or have difficultly eating. The following symptoms may occur for both ovarian cysts and cancer, or they could be symptoms of something else entirely. It’s best to discuss these symptoms with your doctor, especially if they intensify or last through a few menstrual cycles.

If You’re Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer

The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund suggests that if you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your first step is to find a gynecologic oncologist to help treat you. A gynecologic oncologist specializes in this type of cancer. Also ask your doctor about enrolling in a clinical trial, as they’re at the cutting edge of developing new treatments for cancer. You can find emotional support online and in your neighborhood, as there’s a community of women who have similar experiences to share time with.

When was the last time you had a check-up? Schedule an appointment if you’re due for an exam.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley