Ovarian cysts can occur at almost any stage of a woman’s life. However, most occur in women during their childbearing years. Some ovarian cysts can develop in girls at quite a young age, whereas in a small number of cases of ovarian cyst, menopause is the age when they appear.
Before we discuss issues related to ovarian cyst menopause, let’s first talk about what an ovarian cyst is. An ovarian cyst is a small sac which develops either inside the ovary or on the surface of the ovary. The sac becomes filled with fluid. Depending on what type of cyst, the fluid may be watery in consistency, or it may be thick, like mucous.
There may be one cyst or multiple cysts, and the size of the cyst can vary widely. While most ovarian cysts are quite small, like almond or grape size, some can grow to anywhere from 3 to 4 inches in diameter up to 17 or more inches. In rare cases ovarian cysts have grown to be very large, weighing many pounds.
Most ovarian cysts are benign, but some do become cancerous. Also, since ovarian cysts often do not cause any notable symptoms, they may go undetected for years or even throughout a woman’s entire lifetime. For the ones which do cause symptoms, whether an ovarian cyst in a young woman or an ovarian cyst at menopause, the symptoms can vary significantly. Since many of the symptoms mimic other health conditions, it is not uncommon for a woman with an ovarian cyst to be misdiagnosed initially.
There are however many symptoms associated with ovarian cysts. These include menstrual problems including irregular periods and painful cramping, abdominal or pelvic pain, aches in the thighs and lower back area, pain during sex, breast tenderness, pressure on the bladder, abdominal swelling, weight gain, nausea and vomiting, and unusual bleeding. In some instances, an ovarian cyst can cause sudden, intense pain, particularly if it ruptures.
About 17% of post-menopausal women develop ovarian cysts. At this age ovarian cysts are benign about 70% of the time, even though the risk for ovarian cancer is much higher in post-menopausal women.
When an older woman does develop an ovarian cyst, the menopause age dictates that the cyst should be examined as soon as it is detected. This can be done with a sonogram, which takes a picture of the ovaries. The sonogram will provide information as to whether or not a cyst is benign or if there is a reason to suspect cancer.
Another test which should be performed for ovarian cyst at the menopause is a CA 125 blood test. This test determines how much of protein, called CA 125, is in your blood. If the CA 125 levels are elevated, it may signal the presence of ovarian cancer for post-menopausal women. However, elevated CA 125 can be due to other factors as well, so it is not a positive indicator. Also, some women with normal CA 125 tests do have ovarian cancer. This is more likely to be the case for premenopausal women, though. Most of the time the cyst is not cancerous if the CA 125 test comes back with normal results, and the pattern revealed by the sonogram is also benign.
It is generally recommended that when it comes to an ovarian cyst at menopause, having it removed is best. Talk with your doctor if a cyst has been detected and you are past your childbearing years. Together you and your doctor can determine the best treatment option to decrease your risk of ovarian cancer.