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Dermoid Cyst

  • Author: Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 06, 2016


The term dermoid cyst does not appear to be restricted to a single kind of lesion nor is it used in only a single medical discipline. The term dermoid cyst can be found in the vocabulary of dermatologists, dermatopathologists, general pathologists, gynecologists, neurosurgeons, or pediatricians. If asked, all of these clinicians would most probably define and describe dermoid cysts differently. For example, gynecologists and general pathologists might say that a dermoid cyst is a cystic tumor of the ovary. In contrast, neurosurgeons tend to view a dermoid cyst is associated with a congenital cyst of the spine or an intracranial congenital cyst. For pediatricians and dermatologists, dermoid cyst means subcutaneous cysts, which are usually congenital.[1]

In all disciplines, however, the common factor is the presence of a solitary, or occasionally multiple, hamartomatous tumor. The tumor is covered by a thick dermislike wall that contains multiple sebaceous glands and almost all skin adnexa. Hairs and large amounts of fatty masses cover poorly to fully differentiated structures derived from the ectoderm.

Depending on the location of the lesion, dermoid cysts may contain substances such as nails and dental, cartilagelike, and bonelike structures. If limited to the skin or subcutaneous tissue, dermoid cysts are thin-walled tumors that contain different amounts of fatty masses; occasionally, they contain horny masses and hairs.



Dermoid cysts in the skin and subcutis occur mostly on the face, neck, or scalp.

In addition to the skin, dermoid cysts can be intracranial, intraspinal, or perispinal. Intra-abdominal cysts, such as cystic tumors of the ovary or omentum, occur as well.




No information is available about the prevalence of dermoid cysts. In gynecology, the literature describes dermoid cysts as relatively rare tumors, a cystic teratoma that most often occurs in individuals aged 15-40 years. In neurosurgery, dermoid cysts are rare. In dermatology and pediatrics, dermoid cysts are relatively uncommon.

Of the 2639 eyelid tumors from a Chinese study, the 5 most common eyelid benign ones were inflammatory lesions, melanocytic nevi, papillomas, dermoid cysts and epidermoid cysts, and epithelial cysts.[2]


No racial predilection is apparent; however, most cases of dermoid cysts in the literature are described in white persons.


Dermoid cysts of the ovary are sex restricted, that is, they occur only in the female population. In other dermoid cysts, no sex predilection has been found.


Dermoid cysts have been described in persons of all ages.

Dermoid cysts on the face, neck, or scalp are subcutaneous cysts that are usually present at birth. Intracranial or perispinal dermoid cysts are most often found in infants, children, or young adolescents.

Intra-abdominal dermoid cysts are described in females aged 15-40 years. For example, cystic teratoma is a relatively rare tumor that most often occurs in females aged 15-40 years.

Most dermoid cysts on the floor of the mouth occur in individuals aged 10-30 years. There are few descriptions of oral dermoid cysts in newborns or children.



If dermoid cysts are diagnosed early and treated with complete surgical excision, the prognosis is good, and no further complications are expected.

In patients with carcinomatous transformation, the prognosis depends on the stage of the malignant disease (locally limited or spreading) and the success of therapy.

Although dermoid cysts are located in connection with the spinal channel (as described in neurosurgery literature), no deaths are directly linked to ruptures of the cyst or to the spreading of fatty and occasionally, infected masses in subarachnoid, ventricular, or subdural compartments. However, rupture or spread can lead to severe neurologic complications such as secondary spinal subdural abscesses.


Patient Education

For patient education resources, see the Procedures Center and Women's Health Center, as well as Dermoid Cyst Removal and Ovarian Cysts.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Zbigniew Ruszczak, MD, PhD Consultant Dermatologist and Allergist, Department of Medicine, Division of Dermatology, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Consultant in Pediatric Dermatology, Wound Healing and On-Site-Drug Delivery Systems; Visiting Consultant in Dermatology and Dermatopathology, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark

Zbigniew Ruszczak, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

David F Butler, MD Section Chief of Dermatology, Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System; Professor of Dermatology, Texas A&M University College of Medicine; Founding Chair, Department of Dermatology, Scott and White Clinic

David F Butler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, Alpha Omega Alpha, Association of Military Dermatologists, American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for MOHS Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Albert C Yan, MD Section Chief, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Dermatology, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Albert C Yan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology, Society for Pediatric Dermatology, American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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