Dermoid Cyst of the Brain or Spinal Cord

A dermoid cyst is the growth of normal tissue in an abnormal place in the body. The cyst is benign (not cancer). It contains different types of tissue, such as hair follicles, cartilage, sweat glands, and glands that make skin oils.

A dermoid cyst in the brain or spinal cord is a rare type of dermoid cyst. They often appear in children around age 15. But they can also appear in older children and young adults. They are more common in girls. They can be linked to Klippel-Feil syndrome. They are most often found in:

  • The base of the brain

  • The cavity of the fourth ventricle in the brain

  • The lower end of the spine

  • Under the surface of the frontal lobes of the brain

What causes a dermoid cyst?

The cyst forms in the brain or spinal cord when a few cells that normally grow elsewhere are trapped in the brain or spinal cord during a child’s growth. They are often skin and bone cells that are normally part of the skin of the face.

Symptoms of a dermoid cyst

The symptoms depend on where the cyst is. Your child may have symptoms such as:

  • Back pain

  • Balance problems

  • Facial pain

  • Headaches

  • Numbness or weakness

  • Seizures

  • Stiff neck

Diagnosing a dermoid cyst

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s health history and symptoms. They will give your child a physical exam. This may include a nervous system exam. Imaging tests may be done to look at your child’s brain and spinal cord. The tests may include:

  • CT scan. This is a test that uses a series of X-rays and a computer to create images of the inside of the body.

  • MRI. This test uses large magnets and a computer to create images of the body.

Treatment for a dermoid cyst

A dermoid cyst in the brain or spinal cord is usually treated with surgery. If all of the cyst is not removed during surgery, it will likely grow back. Regrowth of a dermoid cyst is usually very slow. It may take years before symptoms return. 

When to call the healthcare provider

Call your child’s healthcare provider if any of these occur:

  • Trouble staying awake or confusion

  • Back pain

  • Facial pain

  • Fever

  • Headache that doesn’t go away

  • Seizures

  • Stiff neck

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