When women experience pelvic pain and abnormal bleeding, doctors can use ultrasound imaging to help find the cause. These scans often also find growths in the ovaries.
The most common type, called a simple cyst, isn’t usually harmful. But because of concerns about ovarian cancer, doctors may monitor a cyst with imaging over many years. Some women even undergo surgery to determine whether a cyst contains cancer.
Researchers analyzed data from a large health care system to find out whether monitoring simple ovarian cysts helped detect cancer early. They collected medical records from more than 70,000 adult women who had pelvic ultrasound tests.
The team estimated that about 23 percent of the women younger than 50 and 13 percent of those older than 50 had simple cysts. None of the cysts in the women younger than 50 were later diagnosed as cancer. Only one woman older than 50 with bad pain was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The study suggests that women with simple cysts are no more likely than women with normal ovaries to have ovarian cancer.
“Our study found that asymptomatic simple ovarian cysts of any size should be considered normal findings in women of any age and ignored,” said Rebecca Smith-Bindman, M.D., who led the study at the University of California, San Francisco. “Following these cysts with additional imaging does not lead to the detection of ovarian cancer.”