Dermoid cysts

Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2003.

What are dermoid cysts?

Dermoid cysts are non-cancerous tumours that may occur anywhere in the body. When they affect the skin these cysts are made up of skin cells, hair follicles, and sweat glands. Dermoid cysts in the skin occur mostly on the face (outer eyebrow, eyelid, upper nose), neck, or scalp. They are usually firm dough-like lumps that range in size from 0.5 to 6 cm in diameter. They can be associated with a nearby pit and/or sinus tract to underlying tissues.

Who gets dermoid cysts?

Dermoid cysts of the skin appear in early childhood, with about 40% present at birth and most appearing by the age of 5 years. Dermoid cysts occur because of a defect during skin tissue development in the embryonic stage. They occur in fusion lines.

Dermoid cysts in other parts of the body, such as within the skull, spine or abdominal cavity particularly the ovaries, may present at any time in people of all ages.


Dermoid cysts are usually removed surgically by excision biopsy. Prior to surgery, they may be investigated with ultrasound scan to determine the extent of underlying tissue involvement. If there is a nearby sinus tract, this is often explored using a sinogram.

Dermoid cysts in other parts of the body such as intracranial cysts, intraspinal cysts, intra-abdominal cysts and cystic tumours of the ovary may be difficult to treat and require special surgical techniques to remove the lesion and prevent possible complications.

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