Q. What’s a dermoid cyst?

A. “Dermoid cyst” is a term that’s sometimes used to describe a benign form of a tumor called a teratoma (a pretty descriptive term, as we’ll see, as it comes from the Greek word for monster). Teratomas can occur in either men or women, but they are much more common in women during the reproductive years.

Teratomas in general are a special type of germ cell tumor in which you see actual tissue development (not just the germ cells themselves). In most teratomas, you see mature tissues – like hair, sebaceous glands, skin, and teeth. Usually there are multiple different tissues from different germ cell layers (so you can see bone, cartilage, thyroid tissue, neural tissue – anything, really). This type of teratoma is usually benign, and often cystic (hence the term “dermoid cyst,” describing a cystic structure with an epithelial component).

Some teratomas are composed of immature tissues (which often have a malignant component); still others are highly specialized, consisting entirely of one tissue, like thyroid tissue (this is called “struma ovarii”). But much more common is the benign, multiple-mature-tissue type of teratoma.

Now as to the name…it’s easy to see from the above photo of a teratoma why the term monster might be applied to such a tumor. Certainly, some teratomas look like little monsters, complete with hair, skin and teeth. However, the term also hints at some sinister misconceptions as to the etiology of this tumor. Many years ago, these tumors were thought to arise from all sorts of monstrous activities – adultery with the devil, witchcraft, nightmares, you name it. How painful it must have been to have one of these tumors, and then to be blamed for the tumor  – and accused of unspeakable acts! Fortunately, we now know that the tumor is caused simply by an error in meiosis – a random occurrence that, of course, has nothing to do with morality or behavior.

Today, patients with dermoid cysts almost always have good outcomes. Most dermoid cysts, being benign, can simply be removed with no further treatment; prognosis is excellent.


6 Responses to The monster tumor

  1. Balyhoo says:

    Dr. K, upon first glance, I simply thought it was a scalp tumor like Dr. S frequently passes off to me while I hold the specimen cup for him and I nearly gag (my weakness is when hair is attached) when there are strands of hair attached. But upon further reading of your post, I read of the TRUE nature of this tumor and EGADS, will be skipping my evening meal altogether. 🙂
    Surely you’ve been reading some Philippa Gregory and the OTHER Bolyn girl MUST have slept with her brother to create such an AWFUL Monstrosity. 😉

    SHUDDER SHUDDER SHUDDER and Nightmares all night.

    I’ve read of these, but thanks for the visual with the hair and the teeth.

    You da best!


  2. Chad says:

    Oh so the reason we discovered its not demonic is “random” meiosis. If its seemingly random, then it is not a reason that rules out evil. These things are messed up!

  3. Kristine says:

    Yeah…but what is evil? Is it a purposeful, planned attempt to destroy life? I guess it depends on one’s definition of evil…maybe we should start a philosophy section on this blog. That would be interesting!

  4. Latrecie Blane says:

    May i have permission to use your image on dermoid cyst for a pathology project that I’m doing

  5. Kristine says:

    Sure! Go ahead 🙂

  6. Yolande says:

    Thanks, this was very enlightening. My 17 year old daughter just lost one of her ovaries partly due to a teratoma.

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