Ovarian cyst removal

Expert reviewer, Mr Robin Crawford, Consultant Gynaecologist
Next review due July 2019

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs (pockets) that can grow in or on your ovaries. Most ovarian cysts are harmless and go away on their own. But you may need surgery to remove a cyst if it’s causing you pain or discomfort, or if it could be cancerous.

Ovarian cysts are usually removed using a surgical procedure called laparoscopy (a type of keyhole surgery), but you may need open surgery if the cysts are large.

An image showing the female reproductive system

Preparing for ovarian cyst removal

Your surgeon will explain how to prepare for your operation. If you smoke, for example, you’ll be asked to stop. Smoking increases your risk of getting an infection after surgery, which can slow down your recovery. It can also lead to complications.

Ovarian cysts are usually removed by keyhole surgery as a day-case procedure. This means you can go home on the same day. The operation is done under general anaesthesia. If you have a general anaesthesic, you’ll be asleep during the operation. You’ll be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, usually for about six hours, before your surgery. 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.

Your surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, including any pain you might have. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask. No question is too small. It’s important that you feel fully informed so you feel happy to give your consent for the procedure to go ahead. You may be asked to do this by signing a consent form.

What are the alternatives to ovarian cyst removal?

If an ovarian cyst isn’t causing you any symptoms, your gynaecologist may suggest simply keeping an eye on it rather than having any treatment. You’ll be asked to attend regular ultrasound scan appointments to check whether the cyst changes in size. If you’re under 50, most ovarian cysts are likely to go away on their own within two or three months.

What happens during ovarian cyst removal?

Simple or small cysts can usually be removed by keyhole surgery. If you’re having keyhole surgery, your surgeon will make two or three small cuts (between 5mm and 1cm long). One will be near your belly button and two will be lower down, usually one on each side. They’ll pass small instruments and a tube-like telescopic camera (called a laparoscope) through the cuts. This procedure is known as laparoscopy. Your surgeon will then examine your ovaries and remove the cyst. The cuts on your skin are closed with glue or stitches.

Sometimes your surgeon may need to change your keyhole procedure to open surgery. This is when a single, large cut is made in your lower abdomen (tummy) to reach your ovary. This will only happen if they’re unable to complete the operation safely using just keyhole surgery. It’s more likely to happen if the cyst is very large or there’s a chance it may be cancerous. Under some circumstances, your whole ovary may need to be removed during the procedure.

What to expect afterwards

Having a general anaesthesic 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 your surgeon’s advice.

You may need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off. You may also need some pain relief to help ease any discomfort.

You’ll usually be able to go home when you feel ready. Arrange for someone to drive you home and have a friend or relative stay with you overnight.

Your nurse will give you some advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. They may also give you some painkillers to take. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.

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

Recovering from ovarian cyst removal

It takes time for your body to heal after surgery. Everyone is different. But you’ll usually feel well enough to go back to your normal activities or work a week after the procedure. The time it takes to recover will depend on whether you had keyhole or open surgery. It's important to follow your surgeon’s advice.

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 for advice.

Side-effects of ovarian cyst removal

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

  • 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 faster 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). You could also develop an infection.

Ovarian cyst removal can cause damage to other organs, such as your bowel, ureter or bladder, but this is unusual. Your surgeon will try to preserve your ovaries so you can have children, but this may not always be possible. See our FAQ on fertility for more information.

You should contact your surgeon 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 are sick
  • red or painful skin around your scars
  • burning or stinging when you pass urine, or passing urine more often
  • pain, swelling, redness or a feeling of heat on your legs

Frequently asked questions

  • An ovarian cyst is unlikely to harm your baby during pregnancy. Your surgeon will only advise you to have the cyst removed if it's causing pain or there’s a risk it’s cancerous.

    Ovarian cysts are usually harmless and go away on their own without treatment. If you’re pregnant and have an ovarian cyst, your surgeon will usually wait until you're 14 weeks’ pregnant before deciding whether to remove it.

    You won’t need any treatment if the cyst isn’t causing you any pain or discomfort and there’s no sign it could be cancerous. Instead, your cysts will be monitored regularly with ultrasound scans.

    If the cyst is large, painful, shows signs of twisting (also known as torsion) or being cancerous, your surgeon will recommend you have keyhole surgery to remove it. Keyhole surgery is safe during pregnancy for you and your baby, but all procedures have some risks. Your surgeon will explain these risks to you.

  • If you’ve had an ovarian cyst removed, there’s no reason why you can't use contraception immediately after surgery. Your doctor will discuss with you the methods of contraception first to find out which one is best for you. They may suggest you use a type of hormonal contraception called the combined oral contraceptive pill.

    Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs (pockets) that can grow in or on your ovaries after an egg is released. The combined oral contraceptive pill stops your ovaries from releasing an egg each month. This reduces your chances of having ovarian cysts. But if you already have ovarian cysts, taking it won’t make these disappear more quickly.

    The combined oral contraceptive pill isn’t suitable for everyone and can cause side-effects. Your GP will be able to advise which type of contraceptive is best for you. It’s important to know that some contraceptives, such as the progesterone-only contraceptives, can actually increase your chance of getting ovarian cysts. For more information, talk to your GP.

  • Yes. You can still get pregnant with one ovary if your remaining ovary is working normally.

    You have two ovaries, one on each side of your uterus. Your ovaries contain your eggs and also make the female hormone oestrogen. Each month, one of your ovaries releases an egg. This is called ovulation. Oestrogen helps to trigger ovulation.

    Your whole ovary may be removed if your cyst is cancerous or your ovary is damaged. This surgical procedure is called an oophorectomy. If only one of your ovaries is removed, your body can still make oestrogen and your remaining ovary can release eggs. So you’re still fertile. But if both of your ovaries are removed (a bilateral oophorectomy), you won’t be able to get pregnant. This means you’ll have an early menopause and will need to have hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to replace the oestrogen in your body.

    Talk to your surgeon if you’re worried about your fertility, especially if you’re planning to have children in the future, or plan to have more.

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  • Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, July 2016
    Expert reviewer, Mr Robin Crawford, Consultant Gynaecologist
    Next review due July 2019

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