woman in low rise jeans with drawing of ovary on her lower abs

Dermoid cysts are one of the most common types of ovarian cysts found in women between 20 and 40. And if you’ve heard about them, you’ve likely been surprised to hear that they can contain hair and even teeth!

These often have no symptoms and are found during routine exams or when an ultrasound is done for other reasons. These are non-cancerous growths that start growing before we are born, while we are developing. According to WebMD, 

“Dermoid cysts are caused when skin and skin structures become trapped during fetal development.” 

They may also be found on the skin or neck in in infants or small children. Some people may have a dermoid cyst on their spine. 

A dermoid cyst is a variety of hamartomata’s tumor–a non-cancerous growth made up of an abnormal mixture of cells and tissues that collect in a sac under the skin. This will sound strange, but because they begin during early stages of our development, they have the ability to form many types of tissue including:  

  • Bone
  • Fluid
  • Hair
  • Nerves
  • Skin
  • Sweat glands
  • Teeth

The sweat glands within a dermoid cyst produce fluid which causes the cyst to swell. These cysts are not dangerous, but do not dissolve on their own. A cyst can be surgically removed for cosmetic reasons or because it is in a location where it will cause problems.  

Different Types of Dermoid Cysts

Of the 8 out of 10 dermoid cysts that occur on the head and neck, the most common spot is the bony outside edge of the eye socket – called a periorbital dermoid cyst. 

Symptoms of a Dermoid Cyst

Many dermoid cysts go unnoticed and provide no symptoms. People often start to experience symptoms as their cyst grows. Symptoms differ based on the type of dermoid cyst. For example:

  • Periorbital dermoid cyst: A lump near the edge of your eyebrow may be swollen and have a yellow tint. Over time, it can push against your facial bones. 
  • Ovarian dermoid cyst: You may have pain in your pelvic area, particularly around the time of menstruation. The dermoid cyst in not the same as cysts caused by PCOS, which can affect fertility.
  • Spinal dermoid cyst: A growing dermoid cyst may compress your spinal cord or nerves, causing:
  • Trouble walking
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Weakness in your legs and arms

How is a dermoid cyst diagnosed?

A health care provider might notice a dermoid just under the surface of the skin in a child or adult during a regular visit. If symptoms are reported, different diagnostics will be used for different kinds of cysts. 

  • During a physical exam your provider can examine the cyst and the area around it.
  • A (CT) computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests are noninvasive and can help your provider know if your cyst is likely to cause problems, such as affecting an artery or a nerve.  
  • Pelvic ultrasound or transvaginal ultrasound can be used to detect an ovarian dermoid cyst.

What can I expect if I have a dermoid cyst?

Untreated dermoid cysts usually don’t cause any harm. But as they grow, they could cause complications such as:

  • Damage to nearby bones
  • Infection
  • Injury to the spinal cord or nerves
  • Rupture of the cyst
  • Twisting of the ovaries (ovarian torsion)

Surgical removal is the only effective treatment for any type of dermoid cyst. The type of surgery depends on the kind of dermoid cyst:

  • Periorbital dermoid cyst: A small incision is made under local anesthetic; the cyst is removed and the incision closed with stitches.  
  • Ovarian dermoid cyst: If possible, your provider will use minimally invasive surgery (ovarian cystectomy) to remove the cyst and save the ovary. If the cyst is large the ovary may have to be removed also.
  • Spinal dermoid cyst: This cyst will be removed using microsurgery and requires a general anesthetic. 

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