Dermoid Cyst

Overview

What is a dermoid cyst?

A dermoid cyst is a growth of normal tissue enclosed in a pocket of cells called a sac. This tissue grows in or under your skin in an unexpected location.

Dermoid refers to something that’s like skin. A cyst is a lump or bump that may contain fluid or other material. Most often, dermoid cysts contain a greasy yellow material, but they may contain:

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

Dermoid cysts can be anywhere on your body. The ones close to your skin surface may look like small lumps. People can also develop dermoid cysts deeper inside your body.

At first, a dermoid cyst can seem like a tumor, but these cysts usually aren’t harmful. You or your child may need surgery to remove a dermoid cyst. It won’t go away on its own.

What are the types of dermoid cysts?

More than 8 out of 10 dermoid cysts occur on the head and neck. The most common type of dermoid cyst is a periorbital dermoid cyst. This type of cyst occurs near the outside edge of one of your eyebrows.

Other common dermoid cyst types include:

  • Ovarian dermoid cyst: Occurs on or in your ovary.
  • Spinal dermoid cyst: Forms on your spine.

Rarer types of dermoid cysts include:

  • Epibulbar dermoid cyst: Found on the surface of your eye.
  • Intracranial dermoid cyst: Found in your brain.
  • Nasal sinus dermoid cyst: Forms inside your nose.
  • Orbital dermoid cyst: Occurs around the bones of your eye socket.

Who might get a dermoid cyst?

Anyone can get a dermoid cyst, but healthcare providers diagnose about 7 in 10 dermoid cysts in children under age 5. Healthcare providers diagnose about 4 in 10 dermoid cysts at birth.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes a dermoid cyst?

Dermoid cysts are present at birth (congenital). These cysts occur when skin layers don’t grow together as they should. This happens during the early stages of development in the uterus (fetal development).

For a dermoid cyst to form, skin cells, tissues and glands typically found in skin collect in a sac. These glands continue to produce fluid, often causing the cyst to grow.

What are the symptoms of a dermoid cyst?

Many people with dermoid cysts have no symptoms. Some people start to experience symptoms as their cysts grow. Symptoms vary 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 change the shape of bones in the area.

Ovarian dermoid cyst: You may have pain in your pelvic area, particularly around the time of menstruation.

Spinal dermoid cyst: A growing dermoid cyst may compress your spinal cord or nerves, causing:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a dermoid cyst diagnosed?

To help diagnose you or your child’s condition, your healthcare provider will ask about symptoms. Your provider can diagnose a dermoid cyst in different ways depending on the cyst’s location:

  • Physical exam: If the cyst is close to your skin’s surface, your provider can examine the cyst and the area around it.
  • CT (computed tomography) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): These noninvasive tests show your provider images of the cyst. These tests can show if the cyst is near a sensitive area, such as a carotid artery. They can also see if a spinal dermoid cyst may be near a nerve.
  • Pelvic ultrasound or transvaginal ultrasound: Your provider uses painless sound waves to see images of an ovarian dermoid cyst. During a pelvic ultrasound, your provider applies a probe against your skin. During a transvaginal ultrasound, your provider inserts a wand into your vagina.

Management and Treatment

How is a dermoid cyst treated?

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: Your provider cleans the area and injects a local anesthetic. They remove the cyst through a small incision. They close the incision with stitches so it can heal with as little scarring as possible.
  • Ovarian dermoid cyst: Your provider may use minimally invasive surgery (ovarian cystectomy) to remove the cyst without removing your ovary. If the cyst is large, you may need removal of both your ovary and the cyst.
  • Spinal dermoid cyst: Your provider will use a surgical microscope and precise instruments (microsurgery) to remove the cyst. During the surgery, you lie face down so your surgeon has good access. You’ll be asleep during the surgery with general anesthesia.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of a dermoid cyst?

Dermoid cysts are congenital (present at birth). You can’t reduce the chances of a dermoid cyst.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a dermoid cyst?

Untreated dermoid cysts usually don’t cause any harm. But over time, dermoid cysts may cause complications, especially if they grow. Complications can include:

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

Dermoid cyst surgery is usually a safe procedure. Having your or your child’s cyst removed can help manage any symptoms and prevent future complications. If you have an ovarian dermoid cyst that needs removal, talk to your provider about how surgery could affect your fertility.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your provider if you or your child has any new symptoms or if symptoms worsen. Seek medical treatment immediately if a cyst:

  • Becomes inflamed.
  • Causes pain.
  • Changes color or gets bigger.
  • Ruptures.

What else should I ask my doctor about dermoid cysts?

To understand this condition, you may want to ask:

  • What’s the most appropriate treatment?
  • Can a cyst come back after treatment?
  • What’s the recovery time after dermoid cyst surgery?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dermoid cysts are usually harmless, but some may cause complications depending on their size and location. If you or your child has a dermoid cyst, talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to treat it. Your provider can often remove a dermoid cyst through surgery. Cyst removal can reduce the chance of having symptoms in the future.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/05/2021.

References

  • American Association for Pediatric Opthalmology and Strabismus. Dermoid Cyst. (https://aapos.org/glossary/dermoid-cyst) Accessed 10/11/2021.
  • Jacków J, Tse G, Martin A, et al. Ruptured intracranial dermoid cysts: a pictorial review. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334092/) Pol J Radiol. 2018;83:e465-e470. Accessed 10/11/21.
  • Seok Choi J, Chan Bae Y, Woo Lee J, Bin Kang G. Dermoid cysts: Epidemiology and diagnostic approach based on clinical experiences. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6258973/) Arch Plast Surg. 2018 Nov;45(6):512-516. Accessed 10/11/2021.
  • Shareef S, Ettefagh L. Dermoid Cyst. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560573/) [Updated 2021 Aug 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 10/11/2021.

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