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  1. 1. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, April 2007; 27(3): 241 – 245 Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses S. PATIL, A. H. SULTAN & R. THAKAR Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Mayday University Hospital, Croydon, UK Keywords Bartholin’s cyst, abscess, marsupialisationJ Obstet Gynaecol Downloaded from by University of California San Diego Introduction and 8 o’clock positions (Govan et al. 1985; Hill and Lense 1998). During sexual arousal they secrete a lubricating A Bartholin’s duct cyst (commonly called Bartholin’s cyst) fluid. The glands are usually the size of a pea and rarely is a fluid filled, swollen sac-like structure which results from exceed 1 cm. They are not palpable except in the presence a blockage of one of the ducts of the gland. Bartholin’s cyst of disease or infection. is a common problem usually affecting women in the repro- ductive age group, especially between the ages of 20 – 30 years (Aghajanian and Bernstein 1994; Folashade et al. Epidemiology 2003). It has varied presentations ranging from asympto- Bartholin’s duct cysts, the most common cystic growths in matic swellings to recurrent infected abscesses and even the vulva occur in the labia majora (Azzan 1978). Some 2% malignancy. The ideal management is still very controver- For personal use only. of women develop a Bartholin’s duct cyst or gland abscess sial. This aim of this paper is to review the current literature at some time in their life (Kaufman 1994). Abscesses are on Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses and critically evaluate the almost three times more common than cysts. One case- various modes of treatment. control study reported that compared with Hispanic women, white and black women were more likely to develop Bartholin’s cysts or abscesses (Aghajanian and Methods Bernstein 1994). Women of high parity were at lowest risk. A detailed Medline search (1966 – 2005) was conducted Gradual involution of the Bartholin’s glands can occur by using the keywords: Bartholin, Bartholin’s cyst, abscesses, the time a woman reaches 30 years of age (Stillman and Bartholinitis, marsupialisation, and all the papers were Muto 1995). This may account for the more frequent reviewed. occurrence of Bartholin’s duct cysts and gland abscesses during the reproductive years, especially between 20 and 29 years of age. Historical perspective Thomas Bartholin was a professor of mathematics and Pathology anatomy but also a physician. He was the first to describe the entire lymphatic system. Kaspar Bartholin II was Obstruction of the distal Bartholin’s duct may result in the Thomas Bartholin’s son, who like his father, was also a retention of secretions, with resultant dilation of the duct professor at the University of Copenhagen. He is credited and formation of a cyst. The cyst may become infected, and with the discovery of the Bartholin glands and also the an abscess may develop in the gland. A Bartholin’s duct accessory duct of the sublingual salivary gland (Columbia cyst does not necessarily have to be present before a gland Electronic Encyclopaedia 2001). abscess develops (Wilkinson and Stone 1995). Acute ‘bartholinitis’ may form an abscess and ultimately dis- charge through the lower vaginal wall. The infection Anatomy sometimes persists sub-clinically and forms recurrent Bartholin’s glands (greater vestibular glands) are homo- abscesses. Davies et al. (1978) investigated the exudate logues of the Cowper’s glands (bulbourethral glands) in from Bartholin’s ducts in 30 patients and isolated Neisseria males (Stenchever 2001). At puberty, these glands begin gonorrhoeae in 24 and Chlamydia trachomatis in nine to function, providing moisture for the vestibule. The patients, seven of whom had concurrent Neisseria gonor- Bartholin’s glands develop from buds in the epithelium of rhoeae infection. This was the first report concerning the the posterior area of the vestibule. The glands are located role of Chlamydia trachomatis in the microbiological bilaterally at the base of the labia minora near the features of Bartholin’s gland abscesses. In another study, opening of the vagina and drain through 2 – 2.5 cm long aspirates of pus from Bartholin’s abscesses in 28 patients ducts that empty into the vestibule at about the 4 o’clock were studied for aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. The Correspondence: R. Thakar, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Mayday University Hospital, London Road, Croydon, Surrey CR7 7YE, UK. E-mail: ISSN 0144-3615 print/ISSN 1364-6893 online Ó 2007 Informa UK Ltd. DOI: 10.1080/01443610701194762
  2. 2. 242 Reviews predominant anaerobic organisms were Bacteroides species Management (23 isolates, including six Bacteroides melaninogenicus group, five Bacteroides fragilis group and four Bacteroides bivius) and The treatment of Bartholin’s cyst can be conservative or Peptostreptococcus species. The predominant aerobic and surgical depending on the patient’s symptoms, the size of facultative bacteria were Escherichia coli and Neisseria the cyst and whether it is infected or not. Asymptomatic gonorrhoeae. This study highlighted the polymicrobial cysts do not require any treatment (Hill and Lense 1998). nature of Bartholin’s abscesses and the importance of Soaking of the genital area with warm towel compresses or testing for sexually transmitted diseases (Brook 1989). in a warm bath (Sitz) is advocated by some to reduce Episiotomy, trauma and vulvovaginal surgery are rare discomfort. Analgesics may also be used to relieve causes of Bartholin’s gland infection or cyst formation discomfort. (Peters 1998). If the gland becomes infected, treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics and analgesics will be necessary. In an observational study of 34 patients, it was shown that Clinical presentation surgery need not be the first line of treatment, as resolution The disease has a variable presentation that could last can be predicted confidently in a high proportion of from hours to several days. It could be asymptomatic patients with the conservative approach. A total of 21 particularly when the cyst is small and not infected. patients had abscesses that were treated with metronidazoleJ Obstet Gynaecol Downloaded from by University of California San Diego Presenting symptoms include pain (worse during sitting 400 mg twice daily and penicillin (or erythromycin) or walking), unilateral oedema and induration around the 250 mg four times a day. Patients with gonorrhoea were gland and superficial dyspareunia. A history of sudden also given a stat dose of 1 g probenecid and 3.5 g relief of pain following a profuse discharge is highly ampicillin. The overall success rate marked by the absence suggestive of spontaneous rupture. The diagnosis of of swelling, discomfort and appearance of a freely draining Bartholin’s cysts or abscesses is primarily made during duct was 85% (Cheetham 1985). physical examination when a medially protruding tender Incision and drainage of the cyst is a relatively quick and fluctuant labial mass can be found in the posterior procedure that provides almost immediate relief to the aspect of the introitus in the region of the duct opening patient but should be discouraged, as there is a tendency into the vestibule. Fever occurs in approximately one- for the cyst or abscess to recur in 5 – 15% of cases third of the patients, usually when the cyst gets infected (Stenchever 2001; Folashade et al. 2003). Definitive For personal use only. (Folashade et al. 2003). In women over the age of 40, treatment options are marsupialisation (Hill and Lense there is an increased risk of malignancy accounting for 1998) placement of a Word catheter (Word 1968; Apgar 2 – 7% of all invasive vulvar malignancies (Wheelock et al. 1994), carbon dioxide laser (Penna et al. 2002) and 1984). application of silver nitrate medication in the cavity (Yuce et al. 1994; Burak 1995). These procedures are described below. Differential diagnosis Bartholin cysts and abscesses must be differentiated from Marsupialisation other vulvar masses such as epidermal inclusion cysts, mucous cyst of vestibule, cyst of canal of Nuck and Skene’s Drainage followed by marsupialisation of the cyst or duct cyst. In a hospital-based cancer risk assessment study, abscess has become an established method of treatment it was suggested that Bartholin’s gland cancer is exceed- (Azzan 1978) and allows for patency of the gland to be ingly rare in all women including postmenopausal women maintained so that the function of secretion does not (Anthony 1996). Most of these vulval swellings are located diminish. It was first described by Davies who used a in the labia majora. The cyst of Skene’s ducts is found simple generous incision and an iodoform gauze pack, adjacent to urethral meatus. which was replaced twice weekly for 3 weeks, during which time, epithelialisation of the new ostium occurred (Davies et al. 1978). Later, Jacobson dissected beneath the skin Investigations flaps so as to expose the whole dome of the cyst wall before The exudate from the Bartholin’s duct can be obtained by making an incision into the cyst cavity itself (Jacobson massaging the length of the duct. Swabs should be taken 1950). The cavity was then irrigated with warm saline from vagina, urethra, endocervix and rectum for culture solution and the cyst wall was sutured to the skin. A 5-year and sensitivities. Blood tests are not necessary to evaluate period of study between 1960 and 1964 concluded that an uncomplicated abscess or cyst. In 1978, Davies et al. marsupialisation was a safe method and had a low suggested performing syphilis serology because abscesses recurrence rate (Mathews 1966). After sterile preparation are often caused by sexually transmitted organisms. They and the administration of a local anaesthetic, the cyst wall is also suggested that endocervical swabs should be tested for grasped. A vertical incision is made in the vestibule over the Chlamydia species (Davies et al. 1978). A biopsy should be centre of the cyst and outside the hymenal ring. The performed when suspecting malignancy namely, patient incision should be about 1.5 – 3 cm long, depending on the older than 40 years, failure to improve with routine size of the cyst. After the cyst is vertically incised, the cavity treatment, known history of labial malignancy and chronic drains spontaneously. The cavity should be irrigated with and/or painless mass in the vaginal area (Wheelock et al. saline solution and any loculations should be broken up. 1984). The cyst wall is then everted and approximated to the edge The recent advent of magnetic resonance imaging has of the vestibular mucosa, with interrupted absorbable been shown to have some promise in diagnosing recurrent sutures (Folashade et al. 2003). Although marsupialisation abnormalities of the Bartholins’s gland or cyst (Marzano has been traditionally used to treat Bartholin’s cysts and and Haefner 2004). abscesses, recent evidence has emerged to suggest that
  3. 3. Reviews 243 incision and drainage with antibiotic cover plus primary Word catheter placement becomes impractical, and other suture of the cavity may be a better alternative. In a pros- options must be considered (Word 1968). Buford Word pective, randomised study of 32 patients with Bartholin’s (1968) used this method of treatment in 68 patients abscess, conventional marsupialisation was compared with harbouring 72 lesions from 1947 to 1967 and found that incision plus curettage and primary suture of the cavity there were only two recurrences, one within 6 months and under antibiotic (Clindamycin) cover. Following incision the other in 5 years. He concluded that the Word catheter of the abscess and breakdown of loculi the abscess wall was is a simple and safe technique which prevents the closure of systematically curetted, the clot removed and cavity closed the stab wound for long enough to allow buttonhole with 2 – 3 vertical mattress sutures. The needle entered the epithelialisation and formation of a fistula with restoration skin 1 – 2 cm from the wound edge and advanced under of the physiological function of the gland. In a recent the cavity floor but avoiding penetration of the cavity itself, randomised controlled trial, Gennie (2005) compared the thereby completely obliterating the cavity and the duct. use of the rubber ring catheter (Jacobi ring) to the Word Compared with marsupialisation alone, the median time to catheter in the treatment of Bartholin’s abscess and found healing was 5 days less after primary suture. Recurrence of that the Jacobi ring is as effective as Word catheter in abscesses was not more frequent and therefore making treating Bartholin’s abscesses, with no clinical and statis- primary suturing an attractive, safe and convenient alter- tical differences regarding catheter placement success, native treatment for Bartholin’s abscess (Andersen et al. abscess resolution, or recurrence and it may be betterJ Obstet Gynaecol Downloaded from by University of California San Diego 1992). tolerated than the Word catheter with greater patient satisfaction. Word catheter Other methods of treatment In 1964, Buford Word described the treatment of Bartholin’s cyst with placement of the Word catheter. In an attempt to find a simple inexpensive mode of The success of this device is based on the age-old principle management for this common gynaecological problem, that a foreign body in a wound that prevents closure will various other methods of treatment have been tried in the result in the formation of an epithelialised fistula or sinus management of Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses. In a study tract (Word 1968). The stem of this rubber catheter is of 52 patients with Bartholin’s cysts or abscesses that were 2.5 cm long with a diameter of a No. 10 french Foley managed by silver nitrate stick insertion into the cyst or For personal use only. catheter. The small, inflatable balloon tip of the Word abscess cavity for 48 h, all patients showed complete catheter can hold about 3 ml of saline (Figure 1). After healing within 15 days. However, two (3.8%) had sterile preparation and the administration of a local recurrences within the first 2 months; one of these patients anaesthetic, the wall of the cyst or abscess is grasped with was treated with excision and the other by repetition of the a small forceps, and a No. 11 blade is used to make a 5 mm same method. Silver nitrate application for Bartholin’s (stab) incision into the cyst or abscess. It is important to cysts or abscesses was found to be effective, simple and grasp the cyst wall before the incision is made; otherwise inexpensive and required the least anaesthesia, allowing it the cyst can collapse, and a false tract may be created. The to be performed in an outpatient setting (Yuce et al. 1994). incision should be within the introitus external to the After local cleansing and infiltration of 1% lignocaine, the hymenal ring in the area of the duct orifice (Apgar 1994). If mucosa of 0.5 – 1.0 cm in length over the cyst, just anterior the incision is too large, the Word catheter will fall out. to the hymenal ring and interior to the labium minus was After the incision is made, the Word catheter is inserted, incised with a thin edged scalpel and over the most and the balloon tip is inflated with 2 – 3 ml of saline distended and thinnest site in cases of abscesses. As the cyst solution injected through the hub of the catheter. The or abscess was penetrated with an Ochsner clamp, drainage inflated balloon allows the catheter to remain within of the whole cyst or abscess was performed. As the wall of the cavity of the cyst or abscess and the free end of the the cavity was visualised, a crystalloid silver nitrate stick catheter can be placed in the vagina. To allow epithelialisa- 0.5 cm in diameter and 0.5 cm in length was placed tion of the surgically created tract, the Word catheter is left deep in the cavity. No sutures were employed. The in place for 4 to 6 weeks (Apgar 1994; Wilkinson and mean duration of the procedure was approximately Stone 1995), although epithelialisation may occur as soon 10 + 3.5 min. After 48 h, the vulva was cleansed and a as 3 – 4 weeks. Coitus may be resumed after catheter clamp was inserted through the former incision site and the insertion. If a Bartholin’s cyst or abscess is too deep, the coagulated tissue with remaining silver nitrate particle was removed. In a randomised controlled trial of 50 patients comparing excision vs intracavitary silver nitrate stick insertion, the latter was found to be as effective as excision but associated with fewer complications. It is also a simpler procedure with shorter operation and healing time. Patients were followed-up for a period of 2 years and recurrences were not found in any of the cases in both groups. With silver nitrate insertion, all patients complained of a burning sensation in the vulva on the first postoperative day. One of the 25 patients had chemical burning which healed without scar formation and fever was seen in three (12%) patients in this group. After excision of the cyst, ecchymosis was seen in three Figure 1. Figure demonstrating Word catheter. (12%), haematoma occurred in two (8%) and febrile
  4. 4. 244 Reviews morbidity occurred in six (24%) patients (Mungan et al. technically easy and associated with less postoperative 1995). Efficiency and safety of alcohol sclerotherapy was morbidity and low recurrence rates. compared with silver nitrate insertion in a randomised trial of 22 patients and it was concluded that with alcohol References sclerotherapy, there was complete healing without any early or late morbidity and only one recurrence was recorded in Aghajanian A, Bernstein L. 1994. Bartholin’s duct abscesses the 24-month follow-up. Therefore, it is as effective as and cyst: a case control study. Southern Medical Journal 87: silver nitrate insertion with fewer complications, shorter 26 – 29. Andersen PG, Christensen S, Detlefsen GU, Kern-Hansen P. duration of procedure and healing time. All 12 patients 1992. Treatment of Bartholin’s abscess. Marsupialization versus treated with alcohol sclerotherapy showed hyperaemia over incision, curettage and suture under antibiotic cover. A the cyst or the abscess site on the second postoperative day, randomized study with 6 months’ follow-up. Acta Obstetricia but resolved within 2 days. A total of 10 patients showed Gynecologica Scandinavica 71:59 – 62. complete healing within 1 week, and two patients Anthony G. 1996. Postmenopausal Bartholin gland enlargement: a complained of severe chemical burning in the vulva on hospital-based cancer risk assessment. Obstetrics and Gynecol- the first postoperative day and developed labial oedema ogy 87:286 – 290. and ecchymosis on the second postoperative day. Tissue Apgar BS. 1994. Bartholin’s cyst/abscess: Word catheter insertion. necrosis appeared on the third postoperative day and In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, editors. Procedures for primaryJ Obstet Gynaecol Downloaded from by University of California San Diego progressed into total cyst necrosis. Cyst walls in these care physicians. St Louis: Mosby. pp 596 – 600. Azzan BB. 1978. Bartholin’s cyst and abscess. A review of patients were expelled on the fourth postoperative day, treatment of 53 cases. British Journal of Clinical Practice 32: leaving a crater of 5 mm depth, which healed completely in 101 – 102. 1 week, with mild scar formation. Only one cyst recurrence Brook I. 1989. Aerobic and anaerobic microbiology of Bartholin’s was detected on 7 months follow-up. All 10 patients treated abscess. Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics 169:32 – 34. with silver nitrate insertion reported a burning pain on the Burak TZ. 1995. Treatment of Bartholin’s cyst and abscess: first postoperative day and a serous discharge from the excision versus silver nitrate insertion. European Journal of operation site lasting 2 – 4 days. Four of them developed Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 63:61 – 63. labial oedema and ecchymosis accompanied by severe Cheetham DR. 1985. Bartholin’s cyst: marsupialization or aspira- labial pain. In these patients, healing was completed with tion? American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 152: moderate scar formation over the incision site. Follow-up 569 – 570. Columbia Electronic Encyclopaedia. 6th ed. 2001. Bartholin. For personal use only. of 24 months revealed no recurrence. Sexual dysfunction Available at: (Accessed 8 June and dyspareunia was not reported in either of these groups 2006). (Kafali et al. 2004). Davies JA, Rees E, Hobson D. 1978. Isolation of Chlamydia trachomatis from Bartholin’s ducts. British Journal of Venereal Excision Disease 54:409 – 413. Folashade O, Barbara J, Simmons, Yolanda H. 2003. Manage- Although Bartholin’s gland abscesses may rupture and ment of Bartholin’s Duct Cyst and Gland Abscess. American drain spontaneously, recurrence is likely, and surgical Family Physician 68:135 – 140. excision may be necessary. Empiric broad-spectrum anti- Gennie P, Li SF, Provataris J, Shahabuddin S, Schachtel A, Lee E biotic therapy should be used. Excision of the Bartholin’s et al. 2005. Jacobi ring catheter treatment of Bartholin’s abscesses. Journal of Emergency Medicine 23:414 – 415. gland should be considered in patients who do not respond Govan AD, Hodge C, Callander R. 1985. Gynaecology illustrated. to conservative attempts to create a drainage tract, but the 3rd ed. New York: Churchill Livingstone 19:195 – 196. procedure should be performed in the absence of any active Hill DA, Lense JJ. 1998. Office management of Bartholin infection (Azzan 1978; Stenchever 2001). If multiple gland cysts and abscesses. American Family Physician 57: attempts have been made to drain a cyst or an abscess, 1611 – 1620. adhesions may be present, making excision difficult and Jacobson P. 1950. Vulvovaginal (Bartholin’s) cyst: Treatment by resulting in postoperative scarring and chronic pain in the marsupialisation. Western Journal of Surgery, Obstetrics and area (Wilkinson and Stone 1995; Hill and Lense 1998). Gynecology 58:704 – 708. Excision can cause extreme dryness of the vulva, with Kafali H, Yurtseven S, Ozardali I. 2004. Aspiration and alcohol severe itching, burning and dyspareunia and therefore sclerotherapy: a novel management of Bartholin’s cyst or abscess. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and should be considered as the last resort. Reproductive Biology 112:98 – 101. Treatment measures for a pregnant woman with a Kaufman RH. 1994. Benign diseases of the vulva and vagina. 4th Bartholin’s cyst will depend on the severity of symptoms ed. St. Louis: Mosby. and whether an infection is present. Care should be Marzano DA, Haefner HK. 2004. The Bartholin Gland Cyst: Past, exercised when surgery is necessary during pregnancy, as present and future. Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease 8: the increased vascularity in the genital area can lead to 195 – 204. haemorrhage. Therefore unless infected, surgery should be Mathews D. 1966. Marsupialization in the treatment of Bartholin’s delayed until after delivery. cysts and abscesses. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Commonwealth 73:1010 – 1012. Mungan T, Ugur M, Yalcin H, Alan S, Sayilgan A. 1995. Conclusion Treatment of Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses: excision versus silver nitrate insertion. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynae- Although Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses are common, cology and Reproductive Biology 63:61 – 63. research into the condition has been largely neglected. Penna C, Fambrini M, Fallow MG. 2002. CO2 laser treatment for Marsupialisation has traditionally been used as the ‘gold Bartholin gland cysts. International Journal of Gynaecology and standard’ treatment. With modern advances in treatment Obstetrics 76:79 – 80. there is a need to compare different methods and formulate Peters WA. 1998. Bartholinitis after vulvovaginal surgery. American a universally accepted simple office management that is Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 178:1143 – 1144.
  5. 5. Reviews 245 Stenchever MA. 2001. Comprehensive gynaecology. 4th ed. St. Wilkinson EJ, Stone IK. 1995. Atlas of vulvar disease. 5th ed. Louis: Mosby. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. Stillman FH, Muto MG. 1995. The vulva. In: Ryan KJ, Word B. 1968. Office treatment of cyst and abscess of Bartholin’s Berkowit RS, Barbieri RL, editors. Kistner’s gynaecology: gland duct. Southern Medical Journal 61:514 – 518. principles and practice. 6th ed. St. Louis: Mosby. pp 66 – 68. Yuce K, Zeyneloglu HB, Bukulmez O, Kisnisci HA. 1994. Wheelock JB, Goplerud DR, Dunn LJ. 1984. Primary carcinoma Outpatient management of Bartholin gland abscesses and cysts of the Bartholin gland: a report of ten cases. Obstetrics and with silver nitrate. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Gynecology 63:820 – 824. Obstetrics and Gynaecology 34:93 – 96.J Obstet Gynaecol Downloaded from by University of California San Diego For personal use only.