Dermoid Cysts Explained: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Medically Reviewed By Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH
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A dermoid cyst is a sac-like collection of tissue that develops near the surface of the skin. These cysts are usually present from birth, and they most commonly occur on the head and neck. Dermoid cysts can contain skin, sebaceous glands that make an oily substance, and hair follicles. They are usually benign growths, which means that they are noncancerous.

Read on to find out more about dermoid cysts. This article explains the types of dermoid cysts, as well as their causes and whether they have symptoms. It also discusses treatments, when to contact a doctor, and more.

What are the types of dermoid cysts?

A young child is using a tablet device.
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Dermoid cysts are typically congenital. This means that they are present at or before birth.

Doctors diagnose around 40% of dermoid cysts at birth, according to a 2022 overview of the condition. The article’s authors suggest that the remaining 60% of dermoid cysts are typically diagnosed by the time a child is around 5 years old.

Around 84% of congenital dermoid cysts occur on the head or neck, the authors note.

There are other types of dermoid cysts, such as ovarian dermoid cysts. These are also called teratomas. It is important to note that ovarian dermoid cysts typically occur or become apparent later in life, the researchers of a 2017 case study suggest.

Ovarian dermoid cysts are not related to the congenital dermoid cysts discussed in this article.

Learn more about cysts.

What are the symptoms of a dermoid cyst?

A dermoid cyst will not usually cause any symptoms.

These cysts have a pale or skin-colored dome shape. They are deep and firm lumps that cannot be compressed or flattened.

Dermoid cysts can occur anywhere on the body. Dermoid cysts most commonly affect the neck and the head, including the eyebrows and the eyelids.

You will typically have only one dermoid cyst in an area. However, it is possible for more than one dermoid cyst to be present.

What causes a dermoid cyst?

Researchers do not know the exact cause of congenital dermoid cysts.

Dermoid cysts typically develop when cells that should be on the outside of the body become trapped on the inside. This includes cells from hair, skin, and sweat glands. The cells collect near the surface of the skin and develop as a cyst.

What are the treatments for a dermoid cyst?

A small dermoid cyst may not need to be removed immediately. It is possible that it will remain the same size for years or even become smaller on its own.

However, your child’s doctor may recommend surgical removal of the cyst to prevent the risk of complications. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, doctors may recommend waiting until the child is at least 6 months old before they undergo surgery to remove the cyst.

During surgery, a surgeon will completely remove the cyst to prevent it from growing back.

Your child’s doctor will be able to advise on if and when they recommend surgery to remove the cyst. They will be able to answer any questions you may have and let you know what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.

Learn more about cyst removal surgery.

When should I see a doctor?

Your child’s doctor may diagnose a dermoid cyst at the time of birth or may identify the cyst during your child’s routine appointments.

You should contact your child’s doctor if you notice any cysts or growths forming anywhere on their body. The doctor can perform a physical examination and advise on any treatments they recommend to reduce the size of the cyst or remove it altogether.

How do doctors diagnose a dermoid cyst?

Doctors can diagnose a dermoid cyst with a physical examination alone. They may diagnose a congenital dermoid cyst at the time of the birth, or the diagnosis may occur as your child grows up, usually by the time they are 5 years old.

If the dermoid cyst grows on the nose or between the eyes, your child’s doctor may order an imaging test, such as an MRI scan. This allows the doctor to see if the cyst connects to any other tissues within the face or head.

What are the risk factors for a dermoid cyst?

Since researchers do not know the exact cause of congenital dermoid cysts, the risk factors are also unclear.

More research is needed into why congenital dermoid cysts form and whether certain factors may make some people more likely to have a dermoid cyst.

Are there any complications of a dermoid cyst?

For dermoid cysts that occur in places other than within the skull (intracranial) or the spine (intraspinal), there are no known complications.

Possible complications of intracranial or intraspinal dermoid cysts can include:

In rare cases, the cells of the dermoid cyst may become cancerous. This is more likely to occur in cases of long-standing dermoid cysts.

Contact your doctor or your child’s doctor if you have concerns about the possible complications of dermoid cysts.

Are ovarian dermoid cysts the same as other dermoid cysts?

Ovarian dermoid cysts are unrelated to the dermoid cysts discussed in this article.

An ovarian dermoid cyst can develop as a result of cells present from birth. However, ovarian cysts most frequently occur in people assigned female at birth who are of childbearing age.

Ovarian dermoid cysts may be solitary or can occur in both ovaries. You may not experience any symptoms if you have an ovarian dermoid cyst.

Ovarian dermoid cysts are less common than other types of ovarian cysts, such as follicle cysts and corpus luteum cysts.

Learn more about ovarian cysts.

Summary

A dermoid cyst is a collection of cells that grow near the surface of the skin. Congenital dermoid cysts are present at or before birth. Though they most commonly occur on the face and neck, they can be anywhere on the body.

Doctors diagnose some dermoid cysts at the time of the birth, though they may not recommend surgical removal until a child is at least 6 months old. Most dermoid cysts are diagnosed by the time the child is around 5 years.

Your child’s doctor will be able to advise on if and when they recommend surgery to remove the cyst. They will also answer any questions you may have so that you are fully informed about what to expect before, during, and after the surgery.

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Medical Reviewer: Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 10
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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.
  1. Dermoid cyst. (n.d.). https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/dermoid-cyst
  2. Dermoid cyst. (n.d.). https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/dermoid-cyst
  3. Ovarian cysts. (2021). https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/ovarian-cysts
  4. Shareef, S., et al. (2022). Dermoid cyst. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560573/
  5. Uyanikoglu, H., et al. (2017). A huge ovarian dermoid cyst: Successful laparoscopic total excision. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5620856/