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An ovarian cyst is a sac or pouch that develops in or on the ovary. The cysts may contain liquid, or solid material or a combination of both. Ovarian cysts are very common, particularly in women between the ages of 30 and 60. They may be single or multiple, and can occur in one or both ovaries. Most are benign (non-cancerous), but approximately 15 percent are malignant (cancerous).
During ovulation (the process during which the egg ripens and is released from the ovary) the ovary produces a hormone to make the follicles (sacs containing immature eggs and fluid) grow and the eggs within it mature. Once the egg is ready, the follicle ruptures and the egg is released. Once the egg is released, the follicle changes into a smaller sac called the corpus luteum. Ovarian cysts occur as a result of the follicle not rupturing, the follicle not changing into its smaller size, or doing the rupturing itself. There are five (5) common types of ovarian cysts: functional cysts, polycystic ovaries, endometrial cysts, cystadenomas and dermoid cysts.
There are two types of functional cysts – follicle cyst and corpus luteum cyst. Both of these types of cysts develop as part of the natural function of the ovary.
Polycystic ovaries (also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome or disease) is a condition in which the follicles never erupt from the ovaries. Under normal circumstances, follicles grow, mature, and rise to the surface of the ovary, where they burst and release an egg to the Fallopian tube, a process controlled by pituitary hormones. The remnants of the burst follicle then begin to produce progesterone, which stimulates the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to grow thicker in case it needs to support a fertilized egg. The effect on the pituitary of an increase in progesterone production is to signal it to stop stimulating the development of eggs. In polycystic ovaries, the follicles grow just under the ovaries’ surface, and are produced again and again because the pituitary has not been signaled to shut off. Both ovaries become filled with tiny cysts and can become enlarged.