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Although an ovarian cyst will often go away on its own, it is important to have it accurately diagnosed, to distinguish it from other, more serious conditions like ovarian cancer.

To diagnose a cyst, your doctor will do a pelvic exam and send you for an ultrasound.

Pelvic Exam

To feel for masses or tenderness in your uterus or ovaries, your doctor will do a pelvic exam. The doctor will insert one or two fingers inside your vagina and press on your abdomen with the other hand. In some cases, the doctor may also do a rectovaginal exam, where one finger is inserted into the rectum and one in the vagina, for just a few seconds, to feel for any lumps.

Your doctor will likely do these exams in conjunction with vaginal cultures and a Pap smear, to rule out infection and other causes of pelvic pain. Visit our Sexual Health Centre for more about these routine exams.


An ultrasound directs high-frequency sound waves at organs inside the body – in this case, the uterus and ovaries. The 'echoes' produce an onscreen image. Thicker tissue appears lighter on the ultrasound screen. Because cysts are filled with fluid, it is usually easy for a doctor to distinguish a cyst from a solid tumour when viewing the ultrasound pictures.

Ultrasound technology has been used for more than 35 years and studies show it is safe. It does NOT use radioactive material to produce an image.

Trans-vaginal ultrasound is used to diagnose ovarian cysts. A trans-vaginal ultrasound uses a slender wand, which is inserted into the vagina, to produce images of the uterus and ovaries on a video screen. The doctor then analyzes the images to determine whether there is a cyst. An ultrasound should not be painful, unless the cyst is already causing abdominal tenderness.


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