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Difference Between Ovarian Cyst and Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cyst vs Ovarian Cancer


Diagram showing stage 2A to 2C ovarian cancer.

They say the greatest achievement of a woman is motherhood and the functionality of her reproductive system is directly proportional to her ability to give birth. Therefore, it is important that a woman makes sure that her health is well taken care of. Two major diseases that could deter a woman’s path to motherhood are ovarian cyst and ovarian cancer. What are these two and how can they be prevented or eliminated.

Ovarian Cyst

Ovarian cysts are closed, sac like structures that form within the ovary and are filled with either a semisolid or liquid substance. It is predominantly common during childbearing years. Most women who have ovarian cyst are asymptomatic in nature. But in some cases, the most common symptom is extreme pain in the abdomen or pelvic area. The condition is confirmed and diagnosed through pelvic or abdominal ultrasound.

Common Causes

  • Infection
  • Genetic
  • Embryonic defect
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions
  • Tumors
  • Obstruction

Types of Cysts

  • Follicular/Functional Cyst

During ovulation, an egg grows inside a sac known as follicle. Normally, the follicle breaks open and releases the egg. However, when the follicle fails to do so the follicle grows larger than normal and form a cyst inside the ovary.

  • Corpus Luteum Cysts

This is a fluid filled cyst that forms when a sac doesn’t dissolve after releasing an egg, which normally does. The fluid inside accumulates and has a probability of developing more fluid causing the cyst to grow in size.

  • Dermoid or Benign Cystic Teratomas

This cystic growth is made up of cells similar to other parts of the body, such as skin, hair, teeth and other tissues

  • Cystadenomas

These are cysts made up of fluid, fat or other tissues found on the surface of the ovary.

  • Endometrios

This is a cyst made up of tissues that normally grows inside the uterus, but for some reason it develops outside and attaches to the ovaries.

*Note: In some cases, an ovary may have a large number of small cysts causing it to be enlarged. This condition is known as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and it is the most common cause of infertility among women.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Abdominal fullness or bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Early satiety
  • Urinary urgency
  • Constipation
  • Painful intercourse


The treatment depends on the size and appearance of the cyst as seen on the ultrasound. Unless the cyst ruptures and causes significant bleeding, in which case surgery is required.

*Note: Ovarian cyst was discussed in the previous paragraphs, but to better understand the whole concept ovarian cancer, ovarian tumor is elaborated below. A cancerous cyst or tumor is known as malignant and non-cancerous ones are called benign.

Types of Ovarian Tumors

Tumors can form in other parts of the body and the ovaries are no exception.

  • Epithelial Cell Tumors – start on the epithelial or outer surface of the ovary. This type of tumor is further classified into:
  1. Benign Epithelial Tumor – not cancerous and do not spread or lead to a detrimental disease.
  1. Tumors of Low Malignant Potential (LMP tumors) – known as borderline epithelial ovarian cancer, this tumor grow slowly and are less life-threatening than most ovarian cancers.
  1. Malignant Epithelial Ovarian Tumors – this is the most common tumor that causes ovarian cancer.
  • Germ Cell Tumors – start from the cells that produce eggs. These are uncommon and tend to affect younger-aged women. Most germ cell tumors are benign.
  • Stromal Tumors – originate from cells that hold the ovary together and produce the hormones: estrogen and progesterone.

Ovarian Cancer

From the word itself, this is the type of cancer that grows in the ovaries. It is often undetected until it has metastasized to the other parts of the pelvis and abdomen. The etiology is unknown, and every woman should be aware that a cyst or a tumor may or may not progress to ovarian cancer. Thus, it is very important to visit your gynecologist for annual or biannual examination, especially when you are at risk.

As what was mentioned earlier the cause of ovarian cancer is not yet identified, but there are possible Risk Factors associated with it. These are:

  • Increasing age
  • Obesity
  • After menopause
  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Family history of breast or colorectal cancer
  • Certain family cancer (genetic) syndromes
  • Breast cancer

While there are risk factors, there are also factors that lower the risk of having an ovarian cancer, these include the following:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Birth control pills
  • The contraceptive injection DepoMedroxyprogesterone Acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera)
  • Having your “tubes tied” (tubal ligation)
  • Removal of the uterus without removing the ovaries (a hysterectomy)
  • Low-fat diet

Signs and Symptoms

  • Abdominal distention due to growing tumor and/or bloating
  • Pelvic and abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Early satiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Urinary urgency
  • Easy fatigability
  • Stomach upset
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Weight loss
  • Painful intercourse


Unfortunately, there are no good screening tests for ovarian cancer, despite extensive ongoing research. Imaging (ultrasound, X-rays, and CT scans), and blood tests should not be used as a screen, as they are inaccurate and lead many women to surgery who do not need it. Diagnosis is often suspected based on symptoms and physical exam, and these are followed by imaging.

Main Treatments

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Radiation therapy

Bottom Line

Ovarian cysts or tumors do not necessarily mean it will progress into ovarian cancer. Many women, during their reproductive years may have had this condition. But this doesn’t mean you should take these conditions for granted. You should know your body very well, consult your physician if you manifest any unusual changes in your reproductive system, specifically your menstrual cycle. As with any type of cancer, the prognosis of being treated for is higher if it is detected earlier. Early detection is the motto for defeating or lowering the risk of cancer.

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  1. I have being diagnosed of ovarian cyst and on treatment .yet still I have not receive my period 3months.Also I have not done any pregnancy test since. what will be the possible reason

  2. ‘Fatiigability’ ?? Good article until you used this ridiculous ‘word’.
    The word is FATIGUE

  3. Can cancer come back from ovarian cancer if you had a hysterectomy Now I’m having pain and discharges

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