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Ovarian Cysts and Tumors

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What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts and tumors?

Often, ovarian cysts don't cause any symptoms. You may not realize you have one until you visit your health care provider for a routine pelvic exam. Ovarian cysts can, however, cause problems if they twist, bleed, or rupture.

If you have any of the symptoms below, it's important to have them checked out. That's because they can also be symptoms of ovarian tumors. Ovarian cancer often spreads before it is detected.

Symptoms of ovarian cysts and tumors include:

  • Pain or bloating in the abdomen
  • Difficulty urinating, or frequent need to urinate
  • Dull ache in the lower back
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Painful menstruation and abnormal bleeding
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite, feeling full quickly

How do doctors diagnose ovarian cysts and tumors?

The obstetrician/gynecologist or your regular doctor may feel a lump while doing a routine pelvic exam. Most ovarian growths are benign. But a small number can be cancerous. That’s why it’s important to have any growths checked. Postmenopausal women in particular should get examined. That's because they face a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Tests that look for ovarian cysts or tumors include:

  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create an image of the ovaries. The image helps the doctor determine the size and location of the cyst or tumor.
  • Other imaging tests. Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) are highly detailed imaging scans. The doctor can use them to find ovarian tumors and see whether and how far they have spread.
  • Hormone levels. The doctor may take a blood test to check levels of several hormones. These may include luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol, and testosterone.
  • Laparoscopy. This is a surgical procedure used to treat ovarian cysts. It uses a thin, light-tipped device inserted into your abdomen. During this surgery, the surgeon can find cysts or tumors and may remove a small piece of tissue (biopsy) to test for cancer.
  • CA-125. If the doctor thinks the growth may be cancerous, he might take a blood test to look for a protein called CA-125. Levels of this protein tend to be higher in some -- but not all -- women with ovarian cancer. This test is mainly used in women over age 35, who are at slightly higher risk for ovarian cancer.

If the diagnosis is ovarian cancer, the doctor will use the diagnostic test results to determine whether the cancer has spread outside of the ovaries. If it has, the doctor will also use the results to determine how far it has spread. This diagnostic procedure is called staging. This helps the doctor plan your treatment.

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