Dermoid cyst

Originally Published: February 6, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 27, 2015
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Dear Alice,

What is the name of the cyst that when removed is made of hair and teeth and body tissue? My friend had one removed from her ovary and her doctor said that very few of them are malignant.

Dear Reader,

You could be describing a dermoid cyst. Dermoid cysts are benign tumors that contain nails, teeth, bone, hair, cartilage, and/or other tissues, and can be filled with a fatty substance. They vary in size and location, generally appearing on an ovary, as in your friend's situation. In 25 percent of cases, cysts are found on both ovaries. Dermoid cysts may also occur in other parts of the body, such as the lungs, skin, spine, abdomen, or even skull. Depending on the location in the body, they are common to rare. Anyone at any age can have a dermoid.

Dermoid cysts of the ovary are fairly common and most often affect young women around the age of 30. They are often discovered during a routine pelvic exam, as they generally cause no symptoms. Surgical removal is usually recommended and laparoscopic surgery is the preferred method, if the cyst is small. This procedure involves inserting a tiny scope into small cuts in the abdomen and filling the abdomen with air, which allows room to maneuver. The surgeon then dissects and removes the cyst. If the dermoid is especially large, the surgeon makes a bigger incision into the abdomen. Planned, rather than emergency, surgery can prevent complications, such as twisting of the cyst, lower abdominal pain, rupture of the cyst, and infection. The cyst is typically on the surface of the ovary or at the end of a pedicle or stalk, making its removal relatively simple. In reproductive age women, the goal of treatment is to preserve all or part of the ovary.

Depending on the position of the cyst within the ovary, it may be necessary to remove a portion of or the entire ovary. In this case, a woman may wonder about her fertility potential. If the remaining ovarian tissue is normal, a woman may still ovulate, menstruate, and conceive a pregnancy. Even if one ovary is completely removed, the other ovary is stimulated and continues to produce eggs, so that conception can occur.

Though extremely rare, 1 - 3 percent of dermoid cysts of the ovary become cancerous. Most of the cysts that undergo malignant degeneration occur in postmenopausal women. Prognosis depends on cancer cell type, stage of cancer, and success of the cancer treatment.

Talking with the surgeon before the operation is an important part of planning for the future. It is a good idea for the woman to identify and write down her questions, and then be sure to understand the answers. Seeking a second opinion before surgery is an appropriate option. Bringing a companion is helpful, since it is difficult to absorb and retain unfamiliar information under stressful circumstances.


August 8, 2008


To the reader:

I have just been treated for a dermoid cyst that twisted, causing horrific pain and required emergency surgery to extract. It ended up being 17cm large and I would have had...

To the reader:

I have just been treated for a dermoid cyst that twisted, causing horrific pain and required emergency surgery to extract. It ended up being 17cm large and I would have had no clue had I not been in such terrible pain. In the process I have also now lost an ovary and a fallopian tube. I am still quite baffled as to how on earth something can get that large and be that invasive and you have no idea it is growing inside you. Then I think back to all the little signs that something wasnt right and how I attributed those things to other things without being fully checked out. Maybe someone will learn from my mistake!