Women’s Health: Ovarian Concerns
A woman’s ovaries have two functions: supplying the eggs that can turn into babies, and producing the female hormones that make a woman feminine. For most women, these internal organs rarely cause pain or problems.
However, one problem many women in childbearing years might develop is an ovarian cyst, a bubble on the ovary. Relatively common, the American Academy of Family Physicians reports cysts in about 20 percent of women of childbearing age. The Centers for Disease Control states that over 50 percent of women will have an ovarian cyst at some time in their lives.
Fortunately, most of these cysts will never require treatment. Ovarian cyst symptoms include low abdominal pain, usually on one side, a sense of bloating, and lower back discomfort.Some women have ovaries that form lots of cysts, in a condition called polycystic ovarian disease. Other possible causes of cysts include pregnancy, abscesses, ectopic pregnancy, ovarian twisting (known as torsion), endometriosis or cancer.
Most often, cysts and tumors are discovered either by gynecological examination or when the woman seeks help for pelvic pain. When a physician suspects there is a problem with an ovary, the first likely test will be an ultrasound. Most of these are found to be benign (basically, harmless).
Benign cysts resolve over time, eventually popping in due course or are absorbed by the body. Medications, such as ibuprofen or Midol, may bring some relief, and naturalistic remedies include mild heat, chamomile tea, and Epsom salt baths.
Sometimes, a cancerous tumor will form on the ovaries. While not all ovarian tumors are cancerous, according to the American Cancer Society, over 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed in 2016, with over 14,000 deaths.
According to WebMD, risk factors for developing ovarian cancer include being post-menopausal, smoking, obesity, not breastfeeding, certain fertility drugs, hormone replacement therapy, and family history of female cancers.
Unfortunately, early ovarian cancer symptoms are missed so often it has earned the nickname “the silent killer.” Some of these symptoms include loss of appetite, bloating, post-menopausal bleeding, and changes in bowel habits. Ovarian tumors usually require surgical removal, and if cancerous, may need more advanced treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Any women having pelvic pain should see a physician for proper evaluation. If the diagnosis is an ovarian cyst, the woman can be reassured the problem will take care of itself. But should the doctor find a tumor, then the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the chance for cure.
Philip L. Levin, M.D. is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is president of the Gulf Coast Writers Association and is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.