Adnexal Tumors Treatment & Management

Updated: Apr 22, 2022
  • Author: Nelson Teng, MD, MS, MBA, PhD; Chief Editor: Michel E Rivlin, MD  more...
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Medical Therapy

Asymptomatic, small, well-characterized adnexal masses may be observed with regular pelvic examinations and radiologic evaluations. A surgical approach should be used if growth occurs in these masses, if the patient becomes symptomatic, or if the cyst develops more concerning features, such as solid components. As indicated previously, the suspicion for a malignancy is increased in prepubescent and postmenopausal women.

Some controversy exists regarding the use of combined hormonal contraceptives in the prevention and treatment of ovarian cysts. Observational studies in women taking higher-dose, “early-generation” oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) suggested a lower incidence of functional and benign epithelial ovarian cysts. However, more recent data have shown that contemporary oral contraceptive formulations have minimal effects on the incidence of ovarian cysts and that treatment with OCPs does not appear to expedite cyst resolution. [44]

Cyst aspiration is contraindicated, especially in postmenopausal patients. In benign cysts, cyst wall removal is necessary to prevent recurrence and aspiration has little therapeutic benefit. In malignancy, cytology only has a sensitivity of 25-82% for detection of cancer. Spillage of cyst fluid may induce peritoneal seeding of malignancy. Intraoperative cyst rupture is known to decrease overall survival in stage 1 ovarian cancer patients in comparison to intact tumors. Additionally, there are case reports of recurrence of malignancy along the aspiration needle tract. [1]  A comparison of five national guidelines on the management of adnexal masses showed that ultrasound-guided aspiration is generally not recommended. [45]


Surgical Therapy

All adnexal masses that are symptomatic or have characteristics of a malignancy should be considered for surgical evaluation. The extensive differential diagnosis and possible surgical procedures should be discussed with the patient.

Obvious benign masses can be treated with resection of the mass alone or removal of the adnexal structure.  In those cases in which the presence of malignancy is questionable, one should limit the resection to the structures involved unless a preoperative decision has been made that a more aggressive approach should be taken.

When an epithelial ovarian malignancy is encountered, a complete staging protocol must be performed. This generally includes complete exploration of the abdomen, hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, omentectomy, pelvic and para-aortic lymph node dissections, biopsies of the undersurface of the right and left diaphragms, and biopsies of the colic gutters followed by a maximal resection of the intra-abdominal tumor. [31] In select cases involving women with limited, early stage, low-grade ovarian cancers, a fertility sparing procedure may be considered. [46] In some cases, resecting portions of the small bowel or colon may be necessary; therefore, preoperative bowel preparation may be warranted, as is a discussion about possible colostomy or other bowel changes.

Among women undergoing minimally invasive resection of adnexal masses, a transvaginal approach for specimen removal is associated with less postoperative pain than a transumbilical approach. [47] If a mass has features suspicious for malignancy, care should be made to remove the mass intact.  During minimally invasive surgery, the mass may be placed in a bag prior to morcellation or cyst decompression to avoid potential spread of malignancy. Intraoperative tumor rupture is significantly more common during minimally invasive removal of adnexal masses as compared to an open approach [48] .


Preoperative Details

Preoperative preparation is vital to the proper care of a woman with an adnexal mass. This should include the following:

  • A complete discussion of the possible procedures and the long-term results

  • A complete bowel preparation in selected cases

  • A careful evaluation of any associated medical problems or past surgeries

  • An evaluation of the woman's nutritional status, particularly when ascites is present

  • Consideration of referral to a gynecologic oncologist

Given the limitations of preoperative diagnostic testing in accurately determining the risk of malignancy (see Workup), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists have established referral guidelines for a newly diagnosed pelvic mass. [1, 49] Women who meet the following criteria would benefit from preoperative consultation with a gynecologic oncologist.

Women who are premenopausal (aged younger than 50 years) with the following characteristics:

  • CA-125 level greater than 200 units/mL

  • Ascites

  • Evidence of abdominal or distant metastasis (by results of examination or imaging study)

  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer (in a first-degree relative)

Women who are postmenopausal (aged older than 50 years) with the following characteristics:

  • Elevated CA-125 levels (any degree of elevation)

  • Ascites

  • Nodular or fixed pelvic mass

  • Evidence of abdominal or distant metastasis (by results of examination or imaging study)

  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer (in a first-degree relative)


Intraoperative Details

During the procedure, several factors must be kept in mind, including the following:

  • The dissection depends on the preoperative discussion concerning the nature and extent of the procedure.

  • The dissection must be tailored to the woman's desire regarding future fertility. In many cases with benign disease, the dissection should not block future reproductive abilities.

  • The presence of extensive disease as seen with cancer or endometriosis alters normal anatomical relations, which can result in a greater chance for injury to surrounding structures such as the ureters or bowel. Such dissections are best performed with the assistance of a gynecologic oncologist.

Intraoperative frozen section analysis should be considered based on a number of factors, as follows [50] :

  • Physical characteristics of the mass (eg, tumor lobularity, visible excrescences, combined solid and cystic components)

  • Presence of adhesions noted during surgery (associated with increased risk of malignancy)

  • Logistical considerations such as the on-call availability of gynecologic oncologist backup if malignancy is identified

A retrospective analysis of 748 Turkish patients who underwent exploratory laparotomy for adnexal masses found that intraoperative frozen section evaluation was highly accurate in evaluating the tumors when compared to permanent section pathology. [51] However, factors that were associated with misdiagnosis included masses larger than 10 cm and a borderline histology. On the basis of multivariate analysis, borderline history was an independent predicted for misdiagnosis during frozen examination. [51]


Postoperative Details

Most adnexal masses can be removed with relative ease and are associated with little postoperative complexity; however, in women with significant preexisting medical problems and/or cancer, major postoperative problems can be encountered. When indicated, intensive care unit admission with close monitoring of fluid balance, electrolyte balance, coagulation status, and cardiopulmonary function may be required.



Most adnexal masses require little more than the normal annual gynecologic examination for follow-up because they rarely recur. On the other hand, women found to have a malignancy require additional therapy, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Their follow-up care should include frequent reexaminations to determine the disease status.

For patient education resources, see Women's Health Center, as well as Ovarian Cysts.


Future and Controversies


The future holds several interesting possibilities. First, the rapid expansion of new laparoscopic equipment, including the robotic surgery platform, makes minimally invasive surgery an area that is gaining increasing importance in the treatment of adnexal masses. Second, the development of new radiologic techniques or expansion of the present techniques will allow the clinician to gain additional characterization of adnexal masses without entering the surgical suite. Third, new molecular, genetic, and biologic markers and therapies should become available that will assist in the diagnosis and treatment of adnexal masses, both benign and malignant.


The major controversy surrounding adnexal masses is when and how to treat them. While some adnexal masses can be clearly stratified into low- or high-risk for malignancy based on clinical, laboratory, and clinical findings, currently, there are no definitive means of preoperative diagnosis with imaging or laboratory findings.