A skull and brain discovered inside a young girl’s tumour

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A team of Japanese surgeons made the strange discovery of a minuscule brain, a skull and some hair inside a tumour in a 16 year old girl. 

We call this type of tumour a “teratoma”, which comes from the Greek word Teras, meaning “monster”. During a routine operation for acute appendicitis, doctors discovered cysts in a 16 year old girl’s ovaries, which they immediately removed. One of them, measuring around 10 centimeters, led to an astonishing discovery. The study, published in the journal Neuropathology, describes the discovery of a tumour containing a miniature brain in the process of growing in the patient’s ovary. A detailed analysis revealed that it was a small version of a cerebellum, which is normally found underneath the brain’s two hemispheres. A mass on one side resembled a stem, the structure that would usually link to the spinal cord.

The doctors also found a small cerebellum, 3 cm long, covered by a bony structure resembling a skull that was growing in the tumour, while they were conducting the routine appendectomy. Strangely, although teratomas are not very common, they’re not that rare either. However, the surgeons had never discovered such a developed example of this type of this tumour. According to Masayuki Shintaku from the surgical team, the structure was developed enough to transmit electrical signals between the neurons. Teratomas generally form when a mass of cells inside the body develops different types of tissue, including bone, nerves, hair and even teeth. They are generally benign and relatively easy to remove. But the organisation of a neurological type of structure in such a tumour was previously unheard of.

Science has always had difficulty explaining teratomas. We know however from looking at previous reports, that in these kinds of rare situations, the women affected can suffer changes in personality, confusion, agitation, paranoid thoughts or even memory loss. The young girl in this study, who fortunately had none of these symptoms, did not suffer any complications following removal of the tumour and she is currently doing very well.