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National Women’s Health Information Center

Ovarian Cysts & Cancer

The ovaries are two almond-sized organs. One is found on each side of the uterus. Growths called cysts or tumors can form in, on, or near the ovaries.


Cysts are sacs filled with fluid or semisolid matter. Ovarian cysts are common in women before menopause. Rarely are these cysts cancer.


Tumors are solid masses. Most often, tumors in the ovary are benign. Malignant tumors are ovarian cancer. This type of cancer occurs most often between the ages of 50 and 75. It can occur at other ages, too.

Signs &


Causes &

Risk Factors


to Ask

Self-Care /


Growths on ovaries are diagnosed with a pelvic exam and medical tests. Ways to detect growths include yearly pelvic and rectal exams and an ultrasound. No completely reliable test exists for ovarian cancer. A CA-125 blood test can detect the progression of ovarian cancer. It is not a reliable screening test.

For Ovarian Cysts

Treatment depends on the size and type of cyst(s); how severe symptoms are; the woman’s health status; and her desire to have children.


Some cysts resolve without any treatment in 1 to 2 months. For others, hormones in birth control pills may suppress the cyst. Sometimes, surgery may be needed to remove it. The ovary and fallopian tube may need to be removed, too.

For Ovarian Cancer

The sooner the cancer is found and treated, the better the chance for recovery. Treatment includes:

•  Surgery. The ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes are removed. If the cancer has spread, the surgeon removes as much of the cancer as possible.

•  Chemotherapy.

•  Radiation therapy.

•  Clinical trials.

For Ovarian Cysts

•  Limit caffeine.

•  Have regular pelvic exams, as advised by your doctor.

•  Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain as directed.

For Ovarian Cancer

•  Medical care, not self-care, is needed. Follow your doctor’s advice.

•  Ask your doctor for advice if you have a family history of ovarian cancer.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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