In a very small percentage of cases, a dermoid cyst in the ovary can turn into cancer.
This isn’t the same as CAUSE cancer; it actually becomes cancer.
What exactly is a dermoid cyst?
“Derm” refers to skin. A dermoid cyst, then, typically contains skin related tissue such as flesh, hair follicles, sweat glands and sometimes hair. They may also contain fat, bone, cartilage and even teeth tissue.
Another name for a dermoid cyst is mature cystic teratoma (MCT). These benign tumors originate from the three germ cell layers that give rise to different types of tissue.
Usually, dermoid cysts are found by accident when a woman’s pelvis is being imaged for something unrelated. However, these teratomas can also cause abdominal or pelvic pain.
Dermoid Ovarian Cysts Can Turn into Cancer
The transformation is not overnight. These benign tumors actually grow about one to two millimeters per year.
Rate of Malignant Transformation of an Ovarian Dermoid Cyst
“Malignant transformation of a benign teratoma is rare – one to three percent of all mature cystic teratomas,” says Mylaine Riobe, MD, founder of Riobe Institute of Integrative Medicine. Dr. Riobe, board certified in OB/GYN and integrative medicine, is the author of “The Answer to Cancer.”
Another type, called struma ovarii, has a cancer transformation rate of 0.3 to 10 percent. However, this variant comprises 2.7 percent of all ovarian dermoid cysts.
“The most common tissue in a cystic teratoma to transform is squamous cell tissue,” says Dr. Riobe.
“Tumor markers may detect this type of transformation preoperatively, but it’s usually made on pathological diagnosis.”
Other cancer types recorded include basal cell carcinoma, melanoma, adenocarcinoma and sarcoma.
If you’re told that you have a dermoid cyst in your ovary, do not panic and think, “It’s going to turn into cancer; get it out of me!” Especially if you’re premenopausal.
Depending on the size, the only treatment is surveillance. It can take 15 to 20 years for a malignant transformation to occur from the time of discovery in younger women.
When an ovarian dermoid cyst transforms into cancer, the patient is typically postmenopausal.
It’s believed that cancerous transformation is associated with prolonged exposure to carcinogens in the pelvic cavity – hence why few malignant transformations occur in young women.
It’s difficult to determine with imaging if a suspicious mass is a malignantly transformed dermoid cyst. A definitive diagnosis is done post-surgical removal.
Signs that are highly suspect for cancer:
• Nodular, papillary or cauliflower shaped growths that protrude into the cyst cavity
• Nodules or plaques within cyst walls
• Adhesion to pelvic wall
• Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
• Dead tissue in the cyst
• Bleeding in the cyst
Risk Factors for Dermoid Ovarian Cyst Turning into Cancer
“Advanced age (postmenopausal), elevated tumor markers [CA-125], large solid tumor on the ovary,” says Dr. Riobe.
Fear of Dermoid Cyst in Ovary Becoming Cancer
• Get yearly ultrasounds.
• Don’t smoke; smoking exposes the pelvic cavity to carcinogens.