Ovarian Dermoid Cyst: Everything You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed By Stacy A. Henigsman, DO
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Ovarian dermoid cysts are growths that contain tissues from your skin, teeth, or hair. They are not cancerous but may cause complications. Ovarian dermoid cysts are also called mature cystic teratomas, the most common type of ovarian teratoma. Ovarian teratomas are tumors that develop in the ovaries. 

This article defines ovarian dermoid cysts. It also explains the causes, symptoms, and treatment for the cysts.

What are ovarian dermoid cysts? 

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Ovarian dermoid cysts originate in your ovaries. They are usually benign but can become cancerous in rare cases. 

They have a slow growth rate — that of 1.8 millimeters (mm) per year. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) notes that the cysts can grow up to 15 centimeters (cm) in diameter. 

Ovarian dermoid cysts tend to affect people who have regular periods. They are more likely to develop in people ages 20-40.

If you have endometriosis, you may develop ovarian cysts. Endometriosis is a condition in which cells similar to the lining of the uterus form in other parts of the body, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. 

Read more about ovarian cysts.

What causes ovarian dermoid cysts?

Dermoid cysts develop in the ovaries form before birth. They form when pieces of the ectoderm form along the lines where the skin fuses while the embryo develops. 

The ectoderm is the outer layer of cells or tissues that forms during the early stages of development. This layer can produce tissues such as:

  • nails
  • hair
  • skin
  • teeth 

If the pieces of the ectoderm fuse within the developing ovaries, this can cause ovarian dermoid cysts.

What are the symptoms of ovarian dermoid cysts?

You may not have any symptoms if you have an ovarian dermoid cyst. However, if this grows, you may experience:

In some people, ovarian cysts may also cause bloating, abdomen swelling, and pain during sexual intercourse. 

If you have sudden pain, you may need to see a doctor immediately, as this may mean the cyst has ruptured. 

Read about cysts.

How are ovarian dermoid cysts diagnosed?

Ovarian cysts do not always cause symptoms, so your doctor may discover that you have one during an ultrasound examination. This can happen as part of a routine pregnancy visit or if you need an ultrasound to check for other conditions. 

Ultrasound scans use sound waves to produce images of the internal organs. It involves placing a device on your abdomen or inside your vagina to check the cysts’ location, shape, and size. 

If the medical professional believes the cyst may be cancerous, they may order a blood test. These indicate the chemical levels in your blood that may be a sign of ovarian cancer

Your doctor may also recommend an MRI if the ultrasound does not provide adequate information. It is a pain-free test that uses a strong magnetic field to produce two or three-dimensional images of your internal organs and tissues.   

How are ovarian dermoid cysts treated?

Treatment may vary from person to person as doctors consider your symptoms, cyst size, and any plans for pregnancy. 

They may recommend surveillance if your cyst is smaller than 6 cm and you do not have any symptoms. This may also be an option for those who wish to conceive. 

Surgery may be recommended if the cyst measures less than 5 cm. In this case, the surgeon may perform a laparoscopic cystectomy to remove the cyst.  

Oophorectomy is another procedure usually reserved for postmenopausal persons with large ovarian cysts measuring more than 5 or 6 cm. This surgery removes the entire ovary. 

In addition, a 2018 study found that laparoscopic surgery can be a safe procedure for those who are pregnant. The surgeon makes small incisions in your abdomen and inserts a thin tube to remove the cyst. 

Laparoscopic surgery can be an option if the cyst has ruptured or has, in rare cases, become cancerous. 

What are the potential complications of ovarian dermoid cysts?

Some complications can potentially arise if you have dermoid cysts in your ovaries. These include:

  • Cyst rupture: One study estimates that about 1-2% of ovarian dermoid cysts can rupture. It can happen at any age, but it is more likely to occur in persons of reproductive age. Ruptures can cause low blood pressure, an increase in heart rate, and dizziness
  • Ovarian torsion: This is when the ovary twists around the tissues holding it in place, and it can occur if you have a large dermoid cyst. Symptoms include severe pain, reduced blood flow to the ovary, and swelling. 
  • Infection: Ovarian dermoid cysts have a 1 to 4% chance of developing an infection. In severe cases, your cyst may rupture. 
  • Cancer: Most of the time, dermoid cysts are benign. However, they may become cancerous, especially in individuals between the ages of 40-60 years. 
  • Fertility problems: Ovarian cysts may cause fertility problems. During treatment, doctors may try to preserve the individual’s fertility and remove the cysts rather than the whole ovary. 

Read about ovarian cancer.

Frequently asked questions

These are some more questions people frequently ask about ovarian dermoid cysts. Stacy Henigsman, D.O., has reviewed them. 

Do ovarian dermoid cysts need to be removed?

Your doctor may recommend only surveillance if you have a small cyst that is not causing any symptoms. 

You may require surgery if the cyst measures more than 6 cm. This also applies if you have developed complications, such as cyst rupture or cancer.  

Also, after cyst removal, there is a small risk that it will grow back.

Are dermoid cysts cancerous?

Dermoid cysts are not cancerous, but large cysts can cause complications.

These include infections, rupture, or ovarian torsion

What does ovarian dermoid cyst pain feel like?

You may develop pain in your lower abdomen if you have a dermoid cyst in your ovaries. 

If the cyst grows, you may have abdominal swelling and severe pain. Cysts may also cause pain in the pelvis and during sexual intercourse. 


Ovarian dermoid cysts are more likely to affect individuals with regular periods and those between the ages of 20–40. 

Conditions such as endometriosis can increase your risk of developing ovarian cysts. 

These are typically not cancerous, but they can rupture and cause infections. In this case, surgery may be an option to remove the cyst. 

If you experience symptoms of an ovarian dermoid cyst, contact your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Stacy A. Henigsman, DO
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 6
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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