Dermoid Cyst

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What is a dermoid cyst?

A cyst is an abnormal growth that develops as a closed sac somewhere in the body. A dermoid cyst is a specialized type of cyst that contains skin and skin appendages, which include hair follicles and sweat glands. Dermoid cysts have different names depending on where in the body they form and what types of structures are inside them. It can be a bit confusing. For example, a dermoid cyst that contains many types of cells, such as skin, hair, teeth, fat, bone and nerve cells, is called a teratoma.

Dermoid cysts may be present at birth and can be found in the face, spinal cord, or skull. Dermoid cysts may also develop in the ovaries in women during the childbearing years. Dermoid cysts of the ovary, also known as benign or mature teratoma, are the focus of this article.

Dermoid cysts may be single or can occur in both ovaries. Their size ranges from tiny (about half an inch) to very large tumors that fill the abdomen. They are the most common ovarian mass diagnosed in young adult women.

Many dermoid cysts of the ovary do not directly cause symptoms; however, if a dermoid cyst grows, it may result in complications due to encroachment upon neighboring structures. Some women with a dermoid cyst may have abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, difficulty urinating, or a dull ache in the lower back and thighs. In some cases, a dermoid cyst may grow large enough to put pressure on or twist the ovary (ovarian torsion, which compromises the ovary’s blood supply and constitutes an emergency). This may result in abnormal pain and bleeding. An enlarged dermoid cyst can also cause pain in the pelvic region, and pressure on the bladder may result in difficulty urinating.

A small percentage of dermoid cysts can progress to cancer. Treatment of a dermoid cyst is surgical removal.

A dermoid cyst is rarely an emergency, but it may result in twisting or torsion of the ovary, compromising its blood supply. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain or uncontrollable vomiting.

What are the symptoms of a dermoid cyst?

A dermoid cyst may have no symptoms. In other cases, symptoms occur but vary in intensity among individuals.

Common symptoms of dermoid cyst

Possible symptoms of dermoid cyst include:

  • Abdominal, pelvic, or lower back pain that can be severe
  • Dysuria (difficulty urinating) and urinary retention
  • Menstrual pain that is worse than normal
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Unintentional weight gain
  • Vaginal bleeding that is abnormal

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, a dermoid cyst can be a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:

  • Severe, sudden pain in abdomen
  • Uncontrollable vomiting

What causes a dermoid cyst?

A dermoid cyst of the ovaries develops from a totipotential cell that retains the capability to form all kinds of body tissues.

What are the risk factors for a dermoid cyst?

Dermoid cysts of the ovaries develop in women during the reproductive years. Specific risk factors are not known.

How is dermoid cyst treated?

Treatment for a dermoid cyst begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine whether you have dermoid cyst, your health care provider will ask you to undergo diagnostic testing.

Some women with a dermoid cyst may never have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, however, you may undergo an abdominal ultrasound to determine the size and location of the cyst. Surgical removal is the treatment of choice for a dermoid cyst. A small number of ovarian dermoid cysts will become cancerous, so surgical removal is indicated.

What are the potential complications of dermoid cyst?

You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of a dermoid cyst include:

  • Development of cancer
  • Intra-abdominal hemorrhage from rupture
  • Ovarian torsion (twisting) and compromise of blood supply
  • Shock
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Mature (cystic) ovarian teratoma. Radiopaedia.org. http://radiopaedia.org/articles/mature-cystic-ovarian-teratoma. Accessed May 29, 2014.
  3. Teratoma of the Ovary. Cancer Research UK. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/rare-cancers/rare-cancers-name/what-is-teratoma-of-.... Accessed May 29, 2014.
  4. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.