Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the tissue of the ovaries, most of which cause no symptoms and resolve on their own. Many women have had one or more of these and never know it. Occasionally they can become troublesome and require medical treatment or surgical removal, but the vast majority of ovarian cysts is harmless. They are also considered benign, but in rare cases, malignant change can occur. Although I have heard reports from patients about traditional Chinese medicine being able to help, I know of no reliable treatment that can dissolve or shrink an ovarian cyst. I checked with Jacquelin Paykel, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist and integrative medicine specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin, about the various types of ovarian cysts and treatments they require:
- Corpus luteal cyst: Here, a follicle that has released an egg at ovulation accumulates fluid and turns into a cyst. Symptoms may include pelvic or abdominal pain. To prevent recurrences most physicians prescribe low-dose birth control pills.
- Functional follicular cyst: These occur when the hormonal signal to the follicle to release an egg isn't strong enough. As a result, the egg isn't released and the follicle turns into a cyst. Most of these resolve on their own without treatment. Here, too, low-dose birth control pills usually are prescribed to prevent similar cysts from forming, although surgery may be needed if the cyst causes severe pain, twists or becomes large, or causes bleeding severe enough to result in anemia.
- Dermoid cysts: These form from a type of cell capable of developing into different kinds of tissue, such as skin, hair, fat, and teeth. Dermoid cysts may be present from birth, grow during the reproductive years, and may be found on one or both ovaries. If they twist, rupture, become large or infected, they may cause pain and require surgery.
- Endometrioma: These cysts stem from endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue from the lining of the uterus (endometrium) migrates elsewhere in the pelvic cavity. Some of this tissue can attach to an ovary and form a cyst. An anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle may limit the effects of endometriosis, but once established, the cysts generally must be removed.
- Neoplastic: Arising from ovarian tissue, neoplastic cysts may be solid or partially solid. Most are benign but in postmenopausal women or girls who have not yet begun to menstruate as many as 49 percent can be malignant. The only effective treatment is surgery.
Andrew Weil, M.D.