Our Health Information Line receives calls and emails from women on a broad range of health issues. This regular column features answers to some of them.
Question: I am aged 24 and recently noticed a small lump near the entrance to my vagina. It is not actually painful but it is uncomfortable when I sit and during sex. What could it be, I am really worried?
A It sounds like your lump could be a Bartholin’s gland cyst. Bartholin’s gland cysts are relatively common with two per cent of women developing one at some stage in their life. They appear to be most common in women between 20 and 29 years of age.
The Bartholin’s glands are pea-size glands found on either side of the entrance to the vagina. Normally the glands cannot be felt as they are under the skin. The glands play an important role by secreting mucus, which lubricates the vagina during sexual intercourse. A Bartholin’s gland cyst can develop when the small opening (duct) through which the mucus flows from the gland becomes blocked. The gland continues to still produce mucus but as the duct is blocked, the mucus builds up. As the mucus is released in response to sexual stimulation, women with an active sex life may find a cyst becomes larger more quickly.
Some Bartholin’s gland cysts are asymptomatic (no symptoms) but in other cases the cyst grows to an extent that it begins to cause discomfort. Sex can become uncomfortable as the cyst is irritated during sexual intercourse and there is less lubrication due to the gland duct being blocked.
A cyst can also become infected with an abscess forming in the Bartholin’s gland. An abscess can be very painful and the area will become inflamed and hot to touch.
You could try to unblock the duct by soaking the area in a warm bath, three to four times a day. If this isn’t successful, you will need to see a doctor. The main aim of the treatment for a Bartholin’s gland cyst is to drain away the excess mucus and to unblock the duct, while preserving the gland itself. There are two main procedures. The first involves the doctor making a small surgical cut, draining the cyst and then inserting a Word catheter (tube with an inflatable tip) which is left in place for a number of weeks to allow draining and for a normal duct opening to form. The second is a marsupalisation procedure in which the cyst is opened and drained and walls of the duct are sewn open, creating a permanent opening for the gland to drain. Bartholin’s gland cysts can reoccur. If cysts continue to reoccur, the entire gland may be surgically removed.
All women with persistent lumps or bumps in the genital area should see a doctor to rule out the possibility of a cancer.
Last updated: December 2015
© Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Kirsten Braun and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee in December 2015. It was first published in Health Journey 2015 Issue 3-4.
The content of this publication ("the information") is provided for information purposes only. The information is provided solely on the basis that recipients should verify all the information provided. The information is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic or clinical care purposes. The information is not a substitute for your own health professional's advice and treatment in relation to any specific patient issue. Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by the use of or reliance on the information. While we have made every effort to ensure the information is accurate, complete and current, Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. does not guarantee and assumes no legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currency or completeness of the information. External resources referred to in this publication should not be taken to be an endorsement or a recommendation of any third party products or services offered and the views or recommendations provided by these external resources do not necessarily reflect those of Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc.