Children's Hospital Colorado

Ovarian Cysts in Girls and Teens

What are ovarian cysts?

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs located within the ovaries. Many girls and women develop ovarian cysts at some point, but most cysts are painless and harmless. In fact, a majority of ovarian cysts resolve themselves without treatment within a couple of months.

Some ovarian cysts can cause more serious symptoms and require treatment. For these more serious cysts, our care team at Children's Hospital Colorado will evaluate the cyst and work with a multidisciplinary team to develop the appropriate care plan.

What causes ovarian cysts in girls?

Different cell types found in ovarian tissue cause different types of ovarian cysts. Many cysts develop as a result of the menstrual cycle, but less common cysts can develop in other ways.Medical illustration of non-surgical cysts: follicular ovarian and hemorrhagic.

The most common type of ovarian cyst is called a "functional cyst" because it serves a purpose in the process of normal ovulation with each menstrual cycle. A single cyst will form around a maturing egg and grow to the size of a quarter just before it pops to release its egg into the fallopian tube. Occasionally, these cysts will grow larger and persist longer, but generally they resolve on their own within 6 to 8 weeks without treatment.

Usually, functional cysts are filled with clear fluid, but they can also contain blood. These cysts are referred to as "hemorrhagic corpus luteum" cysts and will also go away on their own. At times, girls can develop ovarian cysts even before they start having menstrual cycles or when they are on medications to stop ovulation.

Medical illustration of surgical cysts: paratubal, endometrioma, dermoid and large serous.

Other types of cysts occur when part of the ovary grows abnormally. These types of ovarian cysts will not go away on their own. They can arise from an overgrowth of cells on the surface of the ovary, the hormone-producing cells that surround an egg or the egg cell itself. In most cases, these types of cysts are benign (meaning non-cancerous) but some features may raise concerns about cancer, which requires careful care and treatment.

Who gets ovarian cysts?

All females of reproductive age will likely develop functional cysts at some point in their life. Ovarian cysts in teenagers are fairly common and typically don't cause further issues. The cyst may or may not be detected, depending on if it causes pain or if the patient receives a pelvic ultrasound or other imaging.

Nonfunctional cysts that occur because of a growth in the ovary are much less common. Ovarian cysts in general are more common in girls and young women who are pregnant or experiencing other issues, such as endometriosis, hormonal problems, severe pelvic infection or a previous ovarian cyst.