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Ovarian Cysts, Fibroids and Polyps: What’s the Difference?

Ovarian Cysts, Fibroids and Polyps: What’s the Difference?

Ovarian Cysts, Fibroids and Polyps: What’s the Difference?

Worried that you might have an abnormal mass in your womb or ovaries? Here’s how to tell the difference between fibroids, polyps and ovarian cysts.

Fibroids, polyps and ovarian cysts are medical terms that women commonly hear. These are different types of growths that may occur in a woman’s reproductive system. Read on to know the difference.

1. Fibroids

What Causes Fibroids?

A fibroid is a muscular growth within the walls of the uterus that occurs when a single muscle cell over-multiplies itself. Up to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids by the time they reach 50. While the exact cause of fibroids has not been proven, there are theories that they are brought on by a person’s genes and hormones found in the ovaries, such as oestrogen and progesterone.

What are the Symptoms of Fibroids?

Fibroids causes 3 main symptoms: Pressure/ pain due to the large size pressing on other organs, heavy menstruation due to distortion of the womb lining, and infertility due to displacement of the pelvic organs or blockage of the tubes or implantation.

Some common symptoms of fibroids are heavy menstrual flow and discomfort in the lower abdomen. Depending on the location of the fibroids within the womb, you may also experience pelvic pain, increased frequency of urination and in some cases a distended abdomen.

How are Fibroids Treated?

Since fibroids are non-cancerous growths, they may not always require treatment. However, depending on the severity of the symptoms, your obstetrician-gynaecologist (OB-GYN) may recommend pain relief medication, hormone therapy or surgery in extreme cases.

“If someone comes in with no symptoms, we will usually do a scan and if they are small, we can leave the fibroids alone. However, if we can feel a lump in the patient’s stomach or if the fibroids are affecting the woman’s quality of life, then we may take medical action depending on factors like age and fertility plans,” says A/Prof Fong Yoke Fai, gynaecologist at Astra Laparoscopic & Robotic Centre for Women and Fertility.

2. Polyps

What Causes Polyps?

Polyps are relatively common, especially in women above the age of 20 who have had at least one child. While the causes behind them are unclear, polyps are commonly linked to lack of ovulation — clogged blood vessels near the cervix — and an abnormal response to oestrogen.

What are the Symptoms of Polyps?

An estimated two out of three women who have cervical polyps do not exhibit symptoms. But there are signs that could indicate the presence of polyps in your womb, including heavy menstrual flow, bleeding after sexual intercourse and menopause, spotting after your menstrual cycle and vaginal discharge.

How are Polyps Treated?

The course of treatment varies according to your symptoms and age. The OB-GYN may either gently remove the polyps (at the cervix) with forceps or, if the polyp is large and is inside the womb, may recommend a surgical procedure. However, if you do not exhibit any symptoms, the doctor may choose to monitor it for the next six months instead of offering treatment.

“There’s a chance that the polyps will shed for younger women who exhibit no symptoms. So, if you wait long enough then you may not even have to treat it,” says A/Prof Fong.

3. Ovarian Cysts

What Causes Ovarian Cysts?

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that occur in women across a wide age range, between puberty and menopause. Cysts can vary in size and content, from as small as 3 cm to more than 20 cm, and from being filled with clear fluid to mucous or blood. One of the more common type of cysts in younger women, dermoid cysts, can contain things like fat, hair, skin, cartilage tissue etc.

What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts?

Most times, women with ovarian cysts do not present with any symptoms. However, if the cyst is large, you may experience pelvic pain, bloating and a heavy abdomen. Blood (endometriotic) cysts may be associated with painful menses (dysmenorrhea).

How are Ovarian Cysts Treated?

Depending on your age, symptoms and the type and size of your cyst, your doctor may recommend watchful waiting to see if the cyst disappears after a few months. If your cyst continues to enlarge or become symptomatic, he or she can perform a laparoscopy to surgically remove the cyst.


A/Prof Fong Yoke Fai is the medical director of Astra Laparoscopic & Robotic Centre for Women and Fertility, located at Paragon Medical, #16-07/08. He is highly recognised in the management of menstrual-related problems, such as endometriosis and fibroids.

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