Teratomas, also known as dermoid cysts, are rare and unique tumours that usually contain a variety of tissue types like teeth, bone, and hair. They can be found in the ovaries, in the testicles, and sometimes in the nervous system. They can be classified as benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Different Types Of Teratomas
Mature teratomas are often non-cancerous (benign) and typically consist of well-differentiated tissues resembling normal organs. In contrast, immature teratomas have a higher potential to become cancerous (malignant) because they contain less-differentiated or abnormal tissues that can develop into cancerous growths.
The longer a teratoma stays within the body, the more likely it is that it may become cancerous. They may be seen in three different forms within the body.
- Solid Teratomas are made of various tissues and are usually not enclosed.
- Cystic Teratomas are enclosed within a sac.
- Mixed Teratomas are a mixture between a cystic and a solid teratoma as it has parts associated with both types.
Causes Of Teratomas
Teratomas occur when the body’s germ cells undergo differentiation but there are complications during the process.
Germ cells are undifferentiated and can turn into any cells in the body from sex cells to hair cells. Teratomas are usually found in the ovaries and testicles because germ cells move to various parts of the body to differentiate, especially to the ovaries to form egg cells and to the testicles to form sperm cells.
What Do Teratomas Contain?
Teratomas are usually filled with various tissues such as hair, teeth, oil, skin, wax, and sometimes even eyes. They can also have small pieces of bone inside.
Symptoms Of Teratomas
Generally, teratomas will cause swelling, pain, and bleeding. Depending on the location of the teratoma, you might experience different symptoms.
Intense pain will be felt in your pelvic region and abdomen if you have an ovarian teratoma.
As the teratoma increases in size, it may cause extreme pain in the ovary and cause it to twist (torsion) and the blood supply to the ovary may be cut off. This can occur at any fertile age (usually around age 30).
Symptoms may include a lump or various lumps in the testicle. Swelling in the area can also be seen and paired with swelling will be the associated pain. This can occur at any age but it is most often seen around the ages of 20 - 30.
Sacrococcygeal Teratoma (Tailbone)
Symptoms of a teratoma in the tailbone area are leg weakness, painful urination, pubic area swelling, abdominal pain, constipation, and difficulty keeping urine inside. These teratomas are not always seen visibly since they may grow on the tailbone or inside of the tailbone area.
How Does This Affect Fertility?
According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, fertility should remain normal after the teratoma removal and subsequent treatment of the disease. IVF treatment might be necessary for the pregnancy but that will be determined by the doctor after the treatment of the teratoma.
Diagnosis Of Teratomas
Diagnosing a teratoma is not easy since they mimic the appearance of a cyst. A doctor may ask for an MRI scan, X-ray, bone scan, or CT scan done. This will assist in locating the tumour and prevent it from spreading.
Blood tests may also indicate the presence of a tumour since hormone levels might be increased. A biopsy may also be taken to see if the teratoma is malignant or benign.
Treatment Of Teratomas
The treatment depends on where the tumour is and if it has spread. The treatment will also depend on your age and your general health.
Surgery may be conducted to remove the tumour and remove all of the cancerous cells. This may result in the organ associated with the tumour being removed as well (ovary or testicle).
Drugs and medications will be used to eradicate cancer from the body. This method will normally be applicable when the tumour has spread to other parts of the body or if the tumour is cancerous.
This is a form of X-ray that will be used to kill cancerous cells. This is usually used when cancer has not spread since it focuses on a localised area and has fewer side effects as compared to chemotherapy.