Twenty-six-year-old Hailey Bieber, model and wife of singer Justin Bieber, revealed that she has an ovarian cyst “the size of an apple”. She said it makes her feel nauseous, bloated, crampy and emotional. While celebrities certainly magnify a health condition, fact of the matter is it is common among most Indian women.
What are ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts are sacs of liquid or semi-solid material within an ovary or on its surface. These cysts are very common and most go away within a few months without any treatment. In fact, they are discovered only when undergoing a pelvic exam. But, they may, in some cases, cause symptoms such as pelvic pain, backache, bloating in the lower belly, painful periods and pain during intercourse.
Can cysts be cancerous?
A very small percentage — less than one per cent of ovarian cysts – can become cancerous; the cysts that develop after menopause are more likely to be cancerous.
Even if not cancerous, there are certain complications that might arise, including ovarian torsion and cyst rupture. Ovarian torsion is a condition where the cysts become large enough to move the ovaries and this results in a painful twisting, which can in some cases prevent blood flow to the ovaries. If cysts rupture, they can cause severe pain and bleeding in the pelvis.
“When we examine a cyst, our main concern is whether it is cancerous. And, in most cases, especially among younger women, the cysts just disappear within three months. Intervention may be needed if the cysts are larger than 7 cm, are not thin-walled and have septa (a type of cell) within. But that is the call of a gynaecologist. In most cases, the cysts are detected incidentally during a pelvic exam or ultrasound. If so, then the patient is already under the care of a gynaecologist and appropriate steps can be taken. If it is detected in ultrasound, patients must seek consultation with a gynaecologist,” said Dr Roopali Dewan, former head of the department of gynaecology at Safdarjung Hospital.
Types of cysts
Most cysts form as a result of the menstrual cycle. Follicular cysts form when the follicle or the sac carrying the egg doesn’t open up to release it and continues to grow. Corpus luteum cysts form when the follicle, after releasing the egg, gets a blocked opening and starts filling up with fluid. Taking fertility medicines, hormonal problems, and endometriosis (a condition where tissues similar to the uterine lining is found outside the uterus) increase the risk of ovarian cysts.
How can you prevent cysts?
Dr Dewan says there is no need for routine ultrasound for most. “If you do 100 ultrasounds at random, you are bound to find 10 to 15 cysts. And almost all of them will disappear in a couple of months with the periods. So, we do not recommend ultrasound just to check for cysts. Those feeling pain during periods, irregular periods or other such symptoms must consult a gynaecologist. Otherwise, we say women over the age of 40 must get an annual gynaecological check-up. This is because cysts that form after this age are much more likely to be cancerous,” she said.
“Anyone who has a history of young family members getting breast or ovarian cancer, must get the annual check-up from an early age,” Dr Dewan added.