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An ovarian teratoma is a tumor that develops from one of the germ cells in the ovary. Germ cells are multipotent, meaning they can differentiate into a number of different cell types. This unique trait means that an ovarian teratoma is usually a jumble of tissue types including skin, hair, and teeth, rather than consisting of a single uniform cell type. The tumor may be benign or malignant in nature.
The term “teratoma” means “monstrous” or “terrible” tumor, a reference to the unsettling combination of tissue types found in tumors of this nature. An ovarian teratoma usually starts to develop around the time the patient reaches reproductive age, and is the result of abnormalities with one or more ovarian germ cells. The patient may experience symptoms like abdominal cramping, uterine bleeding, and infertility as a result of the tumor.
In some cases, the tumor grows large enough to cause ovarian torsion. In this medical emergency, the ovary twists on its stalk, cutting off the supply of blood to the ovary. Patients experience acute pain and can be at risk of serious complications including abdominal infections and infertility. If the patient does not receive treatment, she can develop a high fever, confusion, and coma. The treatment in this case is emergency surgery to remove the growth and address the torsion. The surgeon will salvage the ovary if possible.
If a doctor suspects an ovarian teratoma, she will usually order some blood tests to check for tumor markers, and may request medical imaging studies of the pelvis to see if any abnormalities are visible. In the event a tumor is present, the treatment recommendation is typically surgery to remove the growth. Laparoscopic surgery is usually an option, allowing the surgeon to make several small incisions to access the site, remove the tumor, check for signs of metastases, and then close the surgical wounds. Recovery times are much faster with this approach, and patients will experience less pain and scarring.
The mature teratoma, also known as a dermoid cyst, is usually benign, while an immature teratoma can be malignant. Doctors can request pathology reports on samples from the tumor to learn more about it and determine if chemotherapy and radiation are necessary. Patients with an ovarian teratoma diagnosis and concerns about future fertility can discuss them with a doctor, as these concerns may influence treatment recommendations and the best options for the patient's needs.