A cystic teratoma is a type of tumor that arises from egg or sperm cells, in the ovaries or testicles. Teratomas can contain undeveloped tissue or a number of different kinds of mature tissue, including fat, hair, teeth, gland and muscle. A cystic teratoma may also be described as a mature teratoma, or a dermoid cyst. It is more likely to contain well-defined types of tissue, to be benign, or non-cancerous, and to be cystic, rather than solid. A cystic tumor has enclosed spaces, which may be full of fluid, inside it.
Cystic teratomas are examples of what are called germ cell tumors. Germ cells are reproductive cells, commonly known as eggs and sperm. When a fetus is developing, germ cells can sometimes end up in other areas of the body, so germ cell tumors may potentially arise anywhere. Mostly, germ cells are found in the ovaries and testicles and this is where most germ cell tumors develop.
A cystic teratoma is a rare tumor which is most commonly found in the lowest part of the spine. The tumor may also arise in the ovaries and, less commonly, in the testicles, chest, abdomen or brain. Up to around a fifth of all tumors of the ovary are found to be mature cystic teratomas, and they are the most frequently occurring ovarian tumors in young women under the age of 20. Since teratomas may contain a bizarre mixture of tissues, such as eyes, hair and teeth, some of the suggested causes in the past were wildly imaginative. It was once thought that a cystic teratoma might result from a tryst with the devil or a witch's curse.
The symptoms of a cystic teratoma vary according to the location of the tumor. Teratomas at the bottom end of the spine, known as sacrococcygeal teratomas, may be spotted on an ultrasound scan before a baby is born. A cystic teratoma of the ovary might cause no symptoms and may be discovered on a routine scan. Alternatively, symptoms of swelling and pain in the abdomen and abnormal vaginal bleeding could occur.
Treatment of a cystic teratoma usually involves surgical removal. Babies with large tumors sometimes have to be delivered by cesarean section, and the teratoma is typically removed during the child's first week of life. In some cases, an operation may be carried out while the fetus is still in the womb. It may be possible to remove a cystic teratoma of the ovary while leaving the ovary and fallopian tube in place. Cystic teratomas are best removed, even if they are not causing symptoms, because there is a slight chance that in the future they could change to become malignant, or cancerous.