The ovaries can give rise to benign, or noncancerous, tumors. These tumors most commonly occur in women of childbearing age, but may also arise in postmenopausal women. Benign ovarian tumors are categorized into three types: surface epithelial tumors, stromal tumors and germ cell tumors. Notably, most benign ovarian tumors cause no symptoms. Large tumors and those that secrete hormones, however, may cause symptoms, which require medical evaluation to rule out ovarian cancer.
Abdominal and Pelvic Discomfort
Benign ovarian tumors are slow-growing masses. Because these tumors rarely cause symptoms, they may grow to a substantial size before discovery. In some women, a benign ovarian tumor eventually grows large enough to cause abdominal or pelvic discomfort by encroaching on nearby structures. In a 2006 article published in the journal "Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation," Drs. See Leung and Pong Yuen report that among a series of women presenting with stromal tumors, abdominal pain was the most common symptom, occurring in approximately 44 percent of cases.
Pain associated with benign ovarian tumors is often dull and low intensity, causing sensation more akin to discomfort than frank pain. Occasionally, tumors become twisted, causing severe abdominal pain. Women who experience such pain often present for emergency care.
Increasing Abdominal Size
Although most benign ovarian tumors remain relatively small due to slow growth, some masses grow quite large, notes the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Large tumors may cause a noticeable increase in abdominal girth. The gradual nature of the increase may cause a woman to mistakenly attribute the growth to progressive weight gain.
Occasionally, benign ovarian stromal tumors may trigger ascites, an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, reports "The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals." Substantial accumulation of ascitic fluid typically distends the abdomen, which may become taut and uncomfortable.
Facial Hair and Severe Acne
Some types of benign ovarian tumors produce androgens, or male sex hormones. The presence of elevated levels of male sex hormones often causes severe acne and growth of facial hair, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
Benign ovarian tumors that produce estrogens may cause abnormal uterine bleeding, as noted in the electronic medical text "Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology." Menstruating women may experience irregular periods or unusually heavy or frequent uterine bleeding due to excess estrogen. Similarly, postmenopausal women may present with the return of uterine bleeding. Women with benign ovarian tumors that do not produce estrogens may experience menstrual irregularity or the temporary cessation of menstruation due to tumor interference with normal ovarian function.
- "Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation"; Ovarian Fibroma: A Review on the Clinical Characteristics, Diagnostic Difficulties, and Management Options of 23 Cases; See Wai Leung, M.D., Pong Mo Yuen, M.D.; February 2006
- Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals: Benign Ovarian Masses
- Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology: Ovarian Tumours: An Overview
- "American Journal of Roentgenology"; Benign Ovarian Tumors with Solid and Cystic