Laparoscopic surgery versus abdominal surgery for ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts and other noncancerous (benign) growths can usually be removed through a small incision (laparoscopy). However, experts sometimes disagree over whether to use laparoscopy or a larger abdominal incision (laparotomy) to investigate suspected ovarian cysts.

  • Some experts think laparoscopy may be appropriate for women who have a low risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Many experts think that a mass on one ovary can be identified as a cyst because of its size [less than 3 in. (7.6 cm)], shape, how it feels, and how it looks on an ultrasound exam.1
  • Laparoscopy has fewer risks and a faster recovery time than laparotomy.

Surgery through a large abdominal incision (laparotomy) is more likely to be recommended when:

  • Masses are present in both ovaries.
  • The ovarian mass is larger than 3 in. (7.6 cm).
  • Other tests, such as an ultrasound exam or Doppler flow studies, suggest that the mass is not a simple functional cyst.
  • Cancer is suspected.

Ovarian cancer requires surgical removal by laparotomy. This allows the surgeon to carefully remove all possible cancer.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between an ovarian cancer and an ovarian cyst before surgery. Should a laparoscopic surgery reveal signs of possible cancer, the surgeon then makes a larger incision.


  1. Jermy K, et al. (2001). The characterization of common ovarian cysts in premenopausal women. Ultrasound Obstetrics and Gynecology, 17(2): 140–144.

Last Updated: November 10, 2008

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