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Management of Vaginal Cysts

4/1/2016 - Sarah Shaffer, DO

Mentor: Thomas Gellhaus, MD

Editor: Eduardo Lara-Torre, MD

REVISED PEARL - January 2016, re-affirmed 7/17

Vaginal cysts occur in 1% of all women. Most are benign, asymptomatic, discovered incidentally, and should be managed expectantly. Common benign causes of vaginal cysts include embryonic remnants of the Mullerian (paramesonephric) or Wolffian (mesonephric) system; the latter are also called Gartner’s duct cysts. Differentiation between them has little prognostic significance and they are managed similarly. Anatomic abnormalities mimicking vaginal cysts include pelvic organ prolapse (e.g. cystocele) as well as bladder and urethral anomalies. 

Vaginal inclusion cysts and foreign body granulomas are often related to prior repair of obstetrical lacerations or other vaginal surgery and have a different appearance than embryologic remnants. Urethral diverticula may initially present as a vaginal mass as can rarer findings such as a vaginal endometrioma, fibroma, or myoma. Malignancy in a vaginal cyst is rare; adenocarcinoma is reported to occur in 6-9% of urethral diverticula.

The appearance and location on physical exam assists in determining the etiology of the vaginal cyst. Embryologic remnants are usually small (<2cm) but stable in size and soft with definite borders. They can occur anywhere in the vaginal mucosa with Gartner’s duct cysts commonly located along the lateral vaginal walls. Urethral diverticula are identified in the midline of the anterior vaginal wall.  Inclusion cysts, granulomas, and the other rare causes noted are solid with definite borders and can occur anywhere in the vagina. Laboratory studies are rarely helpful, and in general, should not be part of the evaluation. When imaging is required (e.g. to aid in surgical planning) pelvic or perineal ultrasound remains the first choice. If ultrasound is inadequate, an MRI is indicated.

Most vaginal cysts, including embryologic remnants, inclusion cysts, and granulomas, can be managed expectantly. If found incidentally and the patient is asymptomatic, serial physical exams to evaluate for stability are appropriate. The patient should have no signs or symptoms of infection or malignancy. Expectant management is also appropriate for vaginal fibromas and myomas.

If a vaginal cyst is acutely changing, is symptomatic, or concerning for an infectious or malignant source, surgical intervention should be considered.  A urethral diverticulum can be expectantly managed if symptoms are mild or absent.  If complicated by abscess, empiric antibiotics should accompany aspiration of the urethral diverticulum until culture and sensitivity results are available. A symptomatic or recurrent urethral diverticulum may require MRI imaging or cystoscopy prior to surgical excision.

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