The term "ovarian cyst" actually describes several types of cysts, each of which is formed in a different way. The most common type, called a physiological cyst, often appears in the first few years after puberty. The cysts are benign and only rarely do they become cancerous. Ovarian cysts usually do not require any medical treatment and most disappear alone.
Normal hormonal changes and ovarian cysts
Hormonal changes cause a type of ovarian cyst called a physiological cyst. These cysts develop in female fetuses, as early as 12 weeks of gestation, and are produced by hormonal changes in the pregnant woman's body. In most cases, fetal physiological cysts disappear before birth. Those who are still present at birth disappear by 3 months.
Ovarian cysts frequently appear in adolescent girls. In adolescence, changes in hormone levels can have a destabilizing effect on the ovary which results in the formation of cysts. This type of hormonal imbalance usually disappears before 18 years of age.
During the female menstrual cycle two types of physiological cysts can develop: one appears before ovulation and the other after. In the first half of a woman's menstrual cycle several follicles begin to form. One becomes the main follicle, which normally continues its development and releases a mature ovule. Sometimes, this follicle remains as such and does not release an egg. This follicle can grow to a considerable size and produce pain.
The second type of physiological cyst appears after the ovule has developed and has been released during ovulation. The remaining tissue of the follicle, now called the corpus luteum, can become a cystic luteal body. These cysts can also grow to a considerable size and produce pain. If the released ovum is not fertilized and therefore is not implanted, the hormone levels will fall, which normally stops the growth of the cystic luteal body.
Other types of ovarian cysts
Non-physiological cysts may also occur in the ovary: hemorrhagic cysts and endometriomas. A hemorrhagic cyst develops when the growth of an ovarian cyst ruptures a blood vessel, which bleeds into the cyst and causes pain. Hemorrhagic cysts sometimes require surgical removal, although many disappear on their own. Endometriomas are cysts caused by endometriosis, a growth of the tissue that lines the uterus in areas where it does not belong, such as the ovary.Also known as "chocolate cysts" because of their dark and bloody liquid content, endometriomas can have different sizes and produce pain. The doctor may remove them if they interfere with fertility.
Dermoid cysts are uncommon cysts; they are an example of an "ovarian stem cell that got out of control" with all kinds of cells such as nerve cells, skin, teeth or hair growing inside them. These cysts were the first real evidence of the potential of stem cell research. While dermoid cysts can often be left in place, many surgeons remove them, especially because they can rarely become cancerous. Other doctors leave them in place unless they cause pain.