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Risk Factors of Ovarian Cysts

By Peter Weiss, MD ; Updated August 14, 2017

A woman can develop cysts on the ovary at any time during her life, including while still in the womb. Three types of ovarian cysts can occur, with physiologic cysts -- those that develop as a result of normal female hormonal fluctuations -- the most common. Physiologic cysts generally need no treatment because they resolve spontaneously and have no risk factors. Benign neoplasms and cancerous cysts occur far less frequently.

Non-Cancerous Ovarian Cysts

High hormone levels in a pregnant woman can cause her growing baby daughter to have ovarian cysts before she's even born. Most fetal ovarian cysts disappear before birth; of those that remain at the time of birth, 90 percent resolve spontaneously by the time the baby is 3 months old.

Each month, the normal menstrual cycle causes changes in hormone levels. In the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, simple benign cysts can form. After ovulation, the corpus luteum -- the shell of the follicle that contained the ovulated egg -- forms a simple cyst. Complex but benign cysts alsocan form from these normal processes. Because normal hormone changes cause these cysts, the only risk factor for developing them is being female. Simple cysts contain only fluid; complex cysts can contain solid material.

The most important thing to remember about most ovarian cysts is that they don't require surgical removal. Time -- and, in some case, medication -- are the best treatment for benign ovarian cysts. See your doctor if you have concerns about ovarian cysts.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women with almost 15,000 deaths per year. The best tool for diagnosis or suspicion is a pelvic ultrasound with color flow evaluation. This is better than a CAT scan or MRI.

The problem is that most of these cancers are picked up late, usually stage three or four. There are no real risk factors, but there are some interesting statistics to be aware of. The Oral Contraceptive Pill actually has a protective affect on the incidence of ovarian cancer. Ten years of continuous OCP usage can lower the risk for developing ovarian cancer by 60%. Also, the more children one has, the lower risk for ovarian cancer as well. Alcohol consumption does not affect the rate, as opposed to breast cancer, which increases your risk of ovarian cancer. There is a strong family association for developing this cancer. If one carries the cancer gene, BRCA1 or BRCA2 then they would have a 15% and 40% chance respectively for getting ovarian cancer.

The bottom line is, the earlier the diagnosis the better chance for survival.

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