An ovarian mass refers to an enlargement of one of the ovaries. Typically, an ovarian mass can present as a solid tumor or fluid-filled cyst. In addition, it can be a combination of a solid tumor and cyst. The ovaries are female reproductive organs that produce female hormones, including estrogen. An ovarian cyst is a common condition, which is typically not cancerous. Generally, small ovarian cysts resolve on their own, without treatment. Sometimes, larger ovarian cysts may require surgical intervention to remove them.
Ovarian cancer is another type of ovarian mass. This type of mass is one that is made up of cancerous, or malignant cells. Usually, ovarian cancer starts in the ovary, in which case it is referred to as primary ovarian cancer. The cancer may have metastasized to the ovary from another body part. If ovarian cancer is not detected and treated in a timely fashion, it is potentially fatal. Sometimes, ovarian masses are asymptomatic and may not be noticed until a pelvic examination is performed.
Typically, when an ovarian mass does produce symptoms, the patient may feel fullness or pressure in the abdomen or pelvic area. Painless swelling in the abdomen or weight gain may also be noted. In addition, a change in bowel or bladder function and leg or vulva swelling may be noticed. Although these symptoms may not indicate an ovarian mass, they need to be evaluated to determine the cause. Prompt diagnosis is important because ovarian masses can become twisted, which may cause severe pain, fever, and nausea. If this occurs, emergency surgical intervention may be warranted.
A physician who specializes in gynecology will utilize various testing methods and examinations to determine if the ovarian mass is cancerous or benign. If an ovarian malignancy is diagnosed, a physician specializing in oncology may be consulted. Medical tests to determine the characteristics of an ovarian mass include blood tests, ultrasound, and CT scanning. In addition, an MRI may be recommended for further evaluation of the abdominal area. Generally, if these testing methods still do not yield a definitive diagnosis, surgery may be required to remove and biopsy the mass.
Generally, most ovarian masses are benign, however, the incidence of malignancy rises with age. It is estimated that up to 60 percent of ovarian masses in the postmenopausal woman are malignant. In these cases, ultrasound imaging may reveal a complex adnexal mass with ascites, or fluid in the abdominal cavity. Although ovarian cancer has an unfavorable prognosis when diagnosed in its late stages, early detection and proper medical intervention can dramatically improve the prognosis.