Inclusion cysts, also commonly referred to as vaginal cysts, are minor swellings that sometimes develop on a woman’s vagina. Commonly, these swellings are the result of fluid that has backed up in a clogged gland or duct. The cysts develop on the walls of the vagina and may be very small and non-painful, but can grow to be very large and quite uncomfortable, especially if one becomes infected.
Vaginal cysts are also sometimes caused by trauma to the vaginal walls. Others may occur after a gynecological exam. In most instances, the vaginal lining heals without complication, but a cyst may occur when it does not.
Often, vaginal cysts develop in the area of the Gartner’s duct, which is located on the vagina’s outer edge. The Gartner’s duct is present on a woman’s vagina as a part of the Wolffian duct left over from the embryonic development that once connected the developing kidney to an opening that allowed for secretions. Before girls are born, this duct usually retreats during development, but it grows and eventually becomes an integral part of the reproductive organs in males. When ducts do not fully retreat in girls before birth, a cyst may develop in that area later in a woman’s life.
Usually, vaginal cysts do not cause pain or discomfort, and most women are not even aware of their presence until a medical professional notices swelling during a vaginal examination. Occasionally, women with inclusion cysts will report slight discomfort caused by a cyst’s presence while inserting a tampon or during sexual intercourse. In rare cases, however, the cysts may become infected or may otherwise cause discomfort if further trauma is sustained in that area. Rarely does either of these conditions naturally occur, however. Vaginal cysts are sometimes biopsied upon their discovery just as a precaution, but they are generally not known to be cancerous.
Other types of cysts may occur in the vaginal area, including bartholin cysts, peritoneal inclusion cysts and epidermal inclusion cysts. A bartholin cyst arises when a bartholin gland becomes backed up with fluid; it is usually painless unless it becomes infected and a painful abscess is formed. A peritoneal cyst commonly occurs after surgery to the pelvic area when fluid becomes trapped between the membranes lining the abdomen. Epidermal cysts are semi-solid cysts that occur in hair follicles and are sometimes also called epithelial cysts.