Photo: Sandra Riley Tang/Instagram 

On Feb 20, 2018, one fourth of local indie band The Sam Willow’s Sandra Riley took to Instagram to share that she underwent surgery to remove two ovarian dermoid cysts in her ovaries.

In a series of Insta stories posts, Sandra shared that she had two cysts in her ovaries measuring about 8.8cm and 5.3cm that she wouldn’t have otherwise noticed had she not gone for full body check-up as part of her insurance. Before she was diagnosed with the ovarian cysts, she didn’t sense anything amiss. She had period cramps and random slight cramps but nothing unusual.

 

 

After gruelling blood tests and scans, it was recommended that she removed her cysts via surgery. The singer added that while surgery was physically tolerable: “mentally and emotionally it was like a roller coaster. Feeling happy for one second and then randomly bursting into tears the next. Feeling really helpless and uncomfortable.”

 

 

The 27-year-old ended off her posts by encouraging her followers who are above the age of 21 to get themselves checked and to make sure they are covered by medical insurance because: “cysts in the uterus and lumps in the breasts are actually very common…You always think it won’t happen to you, until it does,” she wrote.

As Sandra rightly mentioned, ovarian cysts are actually very common even though the condition is rarely talked about. In fact, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Singapore with 343 cases diagnosed each year based on statistics from the Singapore Cancer Registry.

 

So, what are ovarian cysts?

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Cysts as fluid-filled sacs that are not normal to the tissue where they are found and they can develop in any part of the body. Ovarian cysts are cysts that are found within or on the surface of an ovary.

They can be grouped into two broad categories – functional and non-functional. Functional cysts are benign cysts that develop as part of the normal menstrual cycle. During each menstrual cycle, a fluid-filled sac grows on the ovary and holds the egg. When the egg is mature, the sac breaks and releases the egg during ovulation.

Non-functional cysts, on the other hand, are caused by diseases and tend to revolve spontaneously over two to three cycles. However, some of these non-functional cysts might grow or rupture and cause acute symptoms like pain in the abdomen and pelvic area.

While ovarian cysts like endometriotic cysts (occurs when cells from the womb lining develop outside the womb), dermoid cysts (develops from germ cells that are able to develop into any type body tissue, and are more commonly seen in younger women) and cystadenomas (arise from the outer surface of the ovary) are benign cysts, a proportion of ovarian cysts are malignant (cancerous).

 

What are the signs?

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Ovarian cysts usually don’t come with symptoms and are often harmless. Larger ovarian cysts that are rapidly growing may cause acute abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, bloatedness, menstrual irregularities, loss of appetite or weight, passing urine more frequently, or a change in bowel habit (caused by compression from the cysts.

Patients who are diagnosed with endometriotic cysts may experience pain during menstruation and sexual intercourse. As ovarian cancer tends to develop in a gradual, subtle way with vague symptoms, the aforementioned symptoms should not be taken lightly, especially if you just started to experience these symptoms or experience them on a regular basis.  

 

How are cysts detected?

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Ultrasound is the preferred method for detecting ovarian cysts. A blood test for the CA125 protein may also be taken if there is a concern about malignancy.  The blood protein is frequently found in higher concentration is patients with ovarian cancer, but the results must be interpreted in conjunction with symptoms and ultrasound findings.

 

What happens if you have an ovarian cyst?

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Management of the condition will depend on the symptoms that you are experiencing, the characteristics of the cysts and results of blood tests. With small ovarian cysts that have no suspicious features, a follow-up ultrasound scan in about three to four months can be used to monitor changes in size and appearance of the cysts. If the cysts are accompanied by other symptoms like abdominal pain or show abnormal features, your doctor might recommend a cystectomy (ovarian cyst removal), a surgical procedure that is done to remove a cyst from your ovary.

Like with any illness, prevention is better than cure. So heed Sandra’s advice and go for health checks regularly and make sure you are covered with insurance.

The above medical information is from the Singhealth and Gleneagles Hospital website.

 

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