When the Ovaries Grow Hair

My doctor said my ovaries are growing hair?!

These are actually tumors called Benign Cystic Teratomas or Dermoid Cysts. They are not cancerous tumors. They do have a cancerous counterpart called Immature Teratomas. The branch in the pathway towards becoming a benign or cancerous form of the disease is determined early on in the tumor's development. Once the cells of this tumor have matured into hair and other components, a woman really has no worries that this condition will become cancerous. They are in a class of tumors called Germ Cell Tumors.

In spite of the name, this has nothing to do with bacteria or infectious organisms. The word "germ" in medicine refers to the cells and tissues of the body that may ultimately be part of the person's offspring. In the case of women, these are in the ovary.

So how do they grow hair? Almost every cell in your body has your entire genetic code in it. At various stages of embryonic and fetal development, each cell permanently shuts down all the DNA it has, except the portion that it needs to become the one type highly specialized cell. So in other words, the skin cells on soles of your feet once had the ability to become a heart muscle cell. Now, the only portion of DNA available to the skin cell are portions used to make a skin cell; the parts to make a muscle cell are there, but shut down.

In the case of this tumor, the cells in the ovary ignore all the rules and use whatever part of the DNA they want. As a result they differentiate into many different types of tissues, that are normally found throughout the body. Hair and teeth are the most common elements found. Other types of tissue are skin, sweat glands, cells from the lining of the lungs, and cartilage.

How do you know you have one? Because teeth are commonly produced, it may show up on x-ray. The cysts have an unusual shape, a long pedicle can sometimes be felt by your physician on a pelvic exam. It may be found incidentally. However, the cysts often cause the ovary to rotate within the body. This causes considerable abdominal pain, and sets off an investigation to search for the cause of that pain.

These cysts are treated only by removing the part of the ovary which is affected. It should not have a major impact on future fertility. Dermoid cysts usually affect women between the ages of twenty and forty.

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