Growths in the female reproductive system are relatively common. Most present with similar symptoms including pain and irregular periods. But while they may have similar symptoms, the different types of growths have different causes, treatments, and potential complications.
"The three primary types of growths are cysts, polyps, and fibroids," says Melani Harker, MD, a gynecologist at University of Utah Health. "The only way to know which you may have is with a medical diagnosis."
Cysts are the most commonly known growths on the female reproductive system. They are fluid filled sacs that form in the ovaries. Most of them are related to the process of ovulation and resolve once it has occurred. However, at times they form aside from ovulation causing pressure, pain, and other complications.
"In some cases the cyst may rupture causing severe pain and bleeding," Harker says. "Another complication is known as ovarian torsion— where they cyst has actually caused the ovary to twist."
The majority of ovarian cysts resolve on their own. In some cases it is necessary to have surgery to remove them. There are some cases where cysts can be cancerous and therefore treatment must involve an oncologist.
Fibroids are benign growths in the muscles of the uterus. The can range in size from under an inch to several inches in size. Symptoms of fibroids usually include heavy periods, pelvic pressure and fullness, or bladder fullness.
"Fibroids can also cause severe cramps during menses," Harker says. "They can also increase the risk of miscarriage and infertility."
The treatment of fibroids depends on the severity of symptoms as well as a woman's age. Most fibroids will decrease in size after menopause. Fibroid pain can sometimes be treated with over the counter pain medication or certain types of birth control medications. In some cases they may be removed surgically.
"A rapidly growing fibroid may indicate cancer," Harker says. "In those instances the fibroid should be removed immediately and biopsied."
Polyps are growths in the lining of the uterus—the endometrium. The symptoms most commonly associated with them are irregular periods, or spotting between periods.
"Unlike cysts polyps are unlikely to go away on their own, so it is necessary to remove them surgically in order to relieve symptoms," Harker says.
The surgery to remove polyps is called a hysteroscopy. A thin lighted tube is inserted through the vagina into the uterus to identify the polyps and then cut them out. The polyps are then biopsied, though the majority are non-cancerous.
Whether a fibroid, a cyst, or a polyp your medical provider can help identify the problem and determine the best course of treatment.
"In the case of any of these three it is best if they are caught early to reduce the risk of complications," Harker says. "So, at the first symptom, it's best to call and make an appointment."