A teratoma is a rare congenital tumor that can have specialized tissues, including hair, teeth, and structures from organs like the eye. Survival rates are high, but they frequently require surgical removal even when benign.

When you hear the words “tumor and “eye,” your first thoughts may go to statistics on the thousands of new eye and orbit-related cancers diagnosed each year or the hundreds of eye cancer deaths annually.

But what may be less familiar is a “monstrous tumor,” known as teratoma, that can have tissues like hair and teeth or even their own eyes. This may seem like a nightmare scenario reserved for a horror movie, but it’s a real but very rare medical issue.

This article will explain more about the specific types of teratoma that can contain eyes, whether they can be cancerous, and what treatment options may be available. We’ll also explain more about the types of tumors you can develop in your eyes, and what options exist for diagnosing and treating those issues.

A teratoma tumor can include many types of tissues and even fully formed organs. Teratoma form during fetal development and may be observed at birth or discovered later in life.

Teratoma can grow teeth, hair, and a variety of organs. That’s because they’re made up of germ cells that can turn into any type of specialized cell in your body.

They may also contain teeth and hair from a reabsorbed embryo. This is sometimes found in pediatric patients and is called fetus in fetu (fetus within a fetus).

Fetus in fetu is only reported in approximately 1 in 500,000 live births. These teratoma can have the shape of a malformed fetus, and one common theory is that it’s the remains of a twin that was unable to survive in the womb and was encompassed by the surviving baby’s body.

They’re usually found in the retroperitoneum, but may appear in the:

  • abdominal cavity
  • cranial cavity
  • sacrum
  • oral cavity
  • kidneys

There’s still more research needed to understand why this medical phenomenon occurs, but the mass will typically be surgically removed. That’s because it’s still a living tissue and will continue to gain nutrients from the host and keep growing.

Learn more about teratoma.

Teratomas are rare and usually benign.

The survival rates for those with teratoma are high, but specific outcomes for tumors can vary greatly depending on factors like:

  • tumor’s location and size
  • your age and general health
  • symptoms
  • if the tumor is cancerous (and if so, what stage)

Your doctors can help to answer your questions about your specific tumor-related risks.

The shape, size, and coloring of tumors in the eye region can vary greatly. They can look like a large growth or like a tiny dot in the eye.

Tumors develop when cells grow and divide in abnormal ways. They can also occur if cells do not die when they should. If your eye cells multiply abnormally, you can develop a tumor in your eye.

About eye tumors

Cancers that spread to the eye (secondary eye cancers) are more common than the cancers that begin in the eyes (primary eye cancers).

The American Cancer Society estimates that most primary cancers of the adult eye are melanomas. More than 9 out of 10 melanomas start in the skin.

If you’re interested in learning more about cancer, you can read more here.

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While not all tumors are cancerous, any orbital tumor behind the eye can impede vision, cause inflammation or discomfort, and put pressure on other neighboring structures. All suspected orbital tumors should be inspected and treated by a doctor.

Eye tumors can be benign or cancerous.

Some types of cancers that can impact the eyes include:

On the other hand, a choroidal hemangioma is a benign tumor that may be found in the eye. It’s important to keep in mind that even though these tumors are not cancerous, they can still lead to irreversible vision loss and may still need to be removed.

While not all tumors behind your eye are cancerous, they should all be taken seriously. The same is true for teratoma tumors that have eyes.

Early detection of tumors is critical to improving outcomes. Regular physicals and eye exams can help ensure your body is healthy. It’s also important to notify your doctor right away if you experience changes in vision or notice anything unusual with your eye’s appearance.