Nabothian cyst

Last revised by Karen Machang'a on 15 Oct 2023

Nabothian cysts, also known as retention cysts of the cervix 11, are non-neoplastic cystic lesions that occur in relation to the uterine cervix.

Nabothian is generally written without capitalization, i.e. "nabothian", and not "Nabothian", as it is an adjectival form derived from a name, not the name itself (cf. fallopian, which follows the same "rule").

They are common and some reports suggest that they may be seen in up to 12% of routine pelvic MRI scans 2.

The majority are asymptomatic, although in rare cases they can enlarge and become symptomatic 12 or present with vaginal discharge.

They represent retention cysts of the cervix that occur as a result of chronic inflammation and healing. They are thought to form as a result of the healing process of chronic cervicitis and represent mucinous cysts due to obstruction from an overgrowth of squamous epithelium. 

Symptomatic nabothian cysts can also occur as a late complication of subtotal hysterectomy, in which internalisation of the transformation zone and partial obliteration of the canal are postulated as predisposing factors.

Nabothian cysts are usually small, spanning a few millimeters in diameter, but on occasion have been reported to reach extreme sizes of up to 4 cm.

Tunnel cluster, a special type of nabothian cyst, is characterized by complex multicystic dilatation of the endocervical glands.

Typically seen as anechoic well-defined cystic lesions near the endocervical canal. If the cysts are large, the cervical region can appear enlarged 11. Color Doppler interrogation shows no associated color flow.

If small, may not be detectable on CT. May occasionally be seen as a focal low attenuation lesion within the cervical region.

They may be seen as well-circumscribed single or multiple cystic lesions within the cervical stroma.

Signal characteristics typically follow that of fluid 2.

  • T1  

    • iso- to hypointense relative to muscle in typical cases

    • very rare cases with mucin may show some high signal

  • T2: cysts are hyperintense relative to muscle

  • T1 C+ (Gd): there is no associated enhancement and typically have no solid enhancing components

Most nabothian cysts are clinically insignificant. The majority of cases are not treated because the cysts are entirely benign; however, an excision biopsy is sometimes indicated in large, complex, cystic lesions to rule out rare forms of mucin-producing neoplasia, including adenoma malignum 12

Nabothian cysts were first described by Guillaume Desnoues (1650–1735), a French surgeon in 1681, who thought that they represented a store of spermatic-related substances. The German physician, Martin Naboth (1675–1721) published a monograph on female sterility in 1707 and felt that the cysts were a collection of the woman's ova 13.  

General imaging differential considerations include:

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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  • Case 2
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  • Case 3: I-131 uptake in nabothian cysts
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  • Case 4: with cesarean scar niche
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