Ovarian cyst removal

Expert reviewer, Mr Robin Crawford, Consultant Gynaecologist
Next review due June 2024

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can grow in or on your ovaries. For most women, cysts are harmless and go away on their own. But you may need surgery to remove a cyst if it’s causing pain, or if there’s a chance it could be cancer.

An image showing the female reproductive system

About ovarian cyst removal

Ovarian cysts are common before and after the menopause. There are different types of ovarian cyst and they can develop on one or both ovaries.

Ovarian cysts vary in size. Some are a few centimetres wide whereas others can grow to the size of a large melon. They can be filled with fluid and have thin walls (simple cysts). But some cysts are more complex and made of thick fluid, blood or solid areas.

Ovarian cysts don’t usually cause symptoms and they’re often found by chance when you have an ultrasound scan for something else. They can cause pain and discomfort and make you feel bloated. Occasionally, an ovarian cyst might burst or become twisted causing symptoms such as pain and fever. If that happens, you may need an emergency operation to remove it.

Whether or not you need surgery to remove a cyst depends on several things, including:

  • if you have symptoms or are unwell
  • the size of the cyst and if it’s growing – you may be offered surgery to remove simple cysts bigger than seven centimetres
  • what the cyst looks like on an ultrasound scan
  • if there is a chance it may be cancer

You can develop an ovarian cyst when you’re pregnant. These don’t usually cause problems or harm your growing baby. Most disappear by themselves by about the 16th week of pregnancy. Your gynaecologist will only advise you to have the cyst removed if it's large or causing symptoms or might be cancer. Keyhole surgery is safe during pregnancy for you and your baby, but all procedures have some risks. Your gynaecologist will explain these risks to you.

Preparing for ovarian cyst removal surgery

Your gynaecologist will explain how to prepare for your operation. For example, if you smoke, you will be asked to stop. Smoking increases your risk of getting a chest and wound infection, which can slow your recovery.

Ovarian cysts are usually removed by keyhole surgery (a laparoscopy) as a day-case procedure. This means you can probably go home on the same day, although you might need to stay overnight.

Before you go in, arrange to have a friend or family member take you home after your procedure. And make sure someone can be at home with you for the first 24 hours.

The operation is done under general anaesthesia, so you’ll be asleep while it’s going on. You’ll be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand. It’s important to follow your anaesthetist’s advice. You may be asked to wear compression stockings to help prevent blood clots forming in the veins in your legs. You may need to have an injection of an anticlotting medicine as well as or instead of wearing compression stockings.

Your nurse or gynaecologist will discuss with you what will happen before your procedure, including any pain you might have. If you’re unsure about anything, ask. No question is too small. Being fully informed will help you feel more at ease and will allow you to give your consent for the procedure to go ahead. You may be asked to do this by signing a consent form.

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What are the alternatives to ovarian cyst removal?

If an ovarian cyst isn’t causing any symptoms, your gynaecologist may suggest keeping an eye on it rather than having treatment. You’ll be asked to have regular ultrasound scans to check the cyst and see what size it is. Many cysts disappear without treatment. Depending on the type, it can take between six months and several years for an ovarian cyst to go away.

What happens during ovarian cyst removal?

Ovarian cyst removal is usually done through keyhole surgery, but sometimes a larger cut is needed (open surgery). Your gynaecologist will talk to you about which type of operation is best for you.

Keyhole surgery (laparoscopy)

Simple or small cysts can usually be removed by keyhole surgery. Your gynaecologist will make some small cuts in your abdomen (tummy). One will be near your belly button and there may be two or three lower down, usually on each side. Your doctor will pass small instruments and a tube-like telescopic camera (called a laparoscope) through the cuts. They will then examine your ovaries and remove the cyst. The cuts on your skin are closed with glue or stitches.

You can find out more about this procedure by looking at our information on gynaecological laparoscopy.

Open surgery (laparotomy)

In some situations, your gynaecologist may need to do open surgery. This is when a single, larger cut is made in your lower abdomen (tummy). Your gynaecologist may recommend open surgery if the cyst is very large or there’s a chance it may be cancer. Most cysts aren’t cancer so the chances of your cyst being cancerous are small, especially if you’re young. Your gynaecologist might have to change from a laparoscopy to open surgery during the procedure to remove your cyst safely.

What to expect afterwards

After your laparoscopy, your nurse will give you painkillers if you need them and let you rest for a few hours. They’ll offer you something to eat and drink. You’ll usually be able to go home later that day when you feel ready.

Before you go home, your nurse will check that you’ve had a pee. They may also give you some painkillers to take home with you. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.

You can have a shower or bath the day after the operation. You can take off any dressings then too. Don’t worry about getting the wounds wet, you can gently pat them dry with a towel.

Having a general anaesthetic affects everyone differently. You may find that you’re not so coordinated or that it’s difficult to think clearly. This should pass within 24 hours. In the meantime, don’t drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign anything important. Always follow any advice you’re given by your gynaecologist or the hospital.

If your gynaecologist used dissolvable stitches, these will disappear on their own. Other stitches may need to be taken out by the practice nurse at your GP surgery. This usually happens around five to seven days after your operation.

Recovering from ovarian cyst removal

It takes time for your body to recover and heal after an anaesthetic and surgery. Ovarian cyst removal recovery time is different for everyone. You may feel tired and need to take a daytime nap for a few days after you get home.

But it’s important for your recovery to get up and about. It helps to prevent complications from the operation. Try taking a couple of short walks (10–15 minutes) in the first few days then building up gradually. By a week after surgery, most women can walk slowly and steadily for up to 60 minutes. After about two weeks, you should be back to your normal levels of exercise.

You’ll probably be able to go back to work two or three weeks after the operation. If you feel well, and your job isn’t physically demanding, you may be able to start back at work part-time before that. How long it takes for you to recover will also be affected by whether you had keyhole or open surgery. Recovery from open surgery takes longer.

If you have any questions about your recovery or when you can get back to your usual day-to-day life, ask your gynaecologist.

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist.

Side-effects of ovarian cyst removal

After your surgery, you may have some side-effects. These should be mostly temporary and may include:

  • bruising
  • pain or discomfort in your lower tummy for a few days after your operation
  • some pain in your shoulders
  • a small amount of vaginal bleeding for up to 48 hours
  • feeling more tired than usual for a few days

Complications of ovarian cyst removal

Complications are when more serious, unexpected problems occur during or after your procedure.

Most women recover well after ovarian cyst removal. Keyhole surgery causes fewer complications and has a shorter recovery time than open surgery.

Possible complications of any type of surgery include:

  • bleeding or a blood clot, usually in a vein in your leg (deep vein thrombosis – DVT)
  • infection
  • damage to other organs – for example, your bowel, ureters or bladder – though this uncommon
  • a bulge or swelling in your abdomen; this is called a hernia

You should speak to a doctor or contact the hospital where you had your surgery if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • tummy pain that’s getting worse
  • a high temperature, especially if you’ve also lost your appetite or you’re being sick
  • red or painful skin around your scars
  • burning or stinging when you pee, peeing more often or not being able to pee at all
  • a painful, swollen, red and hot leg
  • chest pain, feeling short of breath or coughing up blood

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Related information

    • Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists

    Discover other helpful health information websites.
    • Ovarian cysts. BMJ Best Practice., last reviewed March 21
    • Ovarian cysts before the menopause. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists., published June 2013
    • The management of ovarian cysts in postmenopausal women. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists., published July 2016
    • Benign ovarian tumours. Patient., last edited January 2015
    • de Haan J, Verheecke M, Amant F. Management of ovarian cysts and cancer in pregnancy. Facts, views & vision. Facts Views Vis ObGyn 2015; 7(1):25–31.
    • Recovering well. Information for you after a laparoscopy. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists., published 2015
    • Gynecologic laparoscopy treatment & management. Medscape., updated Sept 2018
    • Principles of surgery. Oxford Handbook of Clinical Surgery. Oxford Medicine Online., published online March 2013
    • Diagnostic Laparoscopy Consent Advice No. 2. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists., published June 2017
    • Common post-operative complications. Patient., last edited November 2020
    • Ovarian cancer statistics. Cancer Research UK., accessed June 2021
  • Reviewed by Sarah Smith, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2021
    Expert reviewer, Mr Robin Crawford, Consultant Gynaecologist
    Next review due June 2024