Monday, September 26, 2011

Medical Mondays: Teratomas and Spanikopita

I have no idea why I chose this topic. I think I literally woke up yesterday and thought, "Why yes. I'm going to make some tea. Then I'm going to do a post on teratomas."

First, a cinematic intro courtesy of My Big Fat Greek Wedding:



I love this movie!

Anyway, so what's a teratoma (Greek for "monstrous tumor"), and how on earth might it be used as literary inspiration?

Teratomas are masses, usually benign, that contain elements that can be found in any part of the body. Thus, they can contain:
  • hair
  • teeth
  • bone
  • neural tissue and brain
  • highly developed body parts, such as eyes, fingers, or internal organ tissues (liver, kidney)
However, they often contain more early developmental tissues that aren't as dramatic as those listed above. A small percentage of these tumors can become malignant.

They generally arise from the germ cells of men and women, so they'll manifest as ovarian cysts or tumors, or testicular masses. They can also arise from embryonic cells and show up in the neck, chest, skull, and even the coccyx (tail bone).

Rarely, the mass can be so well advanced in its development that it can appear to have almost fetus-like definition. This is called fetus in fetu. Some have theorized that it represents a twin that was enveloped by the person in utero, or simply a very developed teratoma.

The fetus in fetu syndrome has shown up in books, such as...

Stephen King's The Dark Half
Billie Cowie's Passenger
Phillip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney

Okay. Now. Spanikopita, anyone????

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only! Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->

Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

55 comments:

Em-Musing said...

Well, the fetus in fetu reminds me of feta, and feta is in spanikopita, but after your description of this growth...I've lost my appetite. Oh, and The Dark Half was one creepy story.

Miranda Hardy said...

I've heard of these before. Very scary.

Sarah said...

Oh, I missed reading these posts!! This is just one of those weird, creepy things--and, relevant to our Twitter exchange last night, a topic that makes me so curious as to the crazy search terms people must use to find your blog! I think you should do a post on that!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Odd topic to think about while drinking tea, but fascinating!

shelly said...

Scary and cool. Have a great day.

Ciara said...

I thought of Stephen King as soon as I read the traits.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I think I read that Stephen King book. Very creepy.

Anne Gallagher said...

I remember a movie that had one of those fetus in fetu things. But it was like, almost grown with eyes and a working mouth. Scary, creepy crazy!

Old Kitty said...

It's probably my Monday state of mind but I keep reading the S medical condition as Spankopita! LOL!!!

Fetus in fetu sounds utterly amazing. Wow! Take care
x

jbchicoine said...

Hehehe...I'm laughing at the video and grossed out at the same time. That is just SO bizarre! hehehe. Thanks for the chuckle this morning :)

Kelly Polark said...

That happened to someone in my jr. high!!! Her twin was growing in her neck as hormonal changes started! She obviously had to have it removed.
That has to be a little jarring and slightly traumatic I'd think...

Becky Mahoney said...

My poetry teacher's daughter had one of these! She called it her "grand-tumor," which the class found both hilarious and utterly terrifying.

Munk said...

Heavy.

Giles Hash said...

Things that make you go, "Bwuhuhu!" That's giving me shivers...in a really bad way.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Had to put my coffee down to read this. *Shivers*

julie fedderson said...

I love tumors with teeth. So fantastically horrifying.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I still get the shivers from that operation scene from King's THE DARK HALF. Brrrr, Roland

Suze said...

That scene kinda made me want to laugh but also just made me shake out my fingers and shudder.

Tamara Narayan said...

How cool! I also thought of Stephen King as I read this post. That tumor may be the only thing I remember about The Dark Half, and the birds. Maybe I'll read it again.

Anyhoo, I also thought of a family member who has a brain tumor that is part germinoma/part teratoma, with possibly some carcinoma mixed in. Luckily the tumor is in the pineal region and hasn't grown in five years.

Great material for storytelling.

Krispy said...

Augh, I started thinking too much about it while reading your descriptions and now I'm thoroughly creeped out. Thanks. :P

Christina Lee said...

Oh my goodness--news to me!!! EEK

Karen Lange said...

Love this movie too! That scene always robbed me of my appetite for some reason...

Happy Monday!

Matthew MacNish said...

So in other words: Kuato?

Linda Gray said...

Teratoma! So THAT's what that's called! Thank you. Years ago I had a vivid dream about an ill friend in which I 'saw' a mass at the base of her spine that was dark and like a fist. While I watched it in the dream, it turned into a prickly hedgehog and rolled away. So naturally, in my dream, I stepped back and said, 'huh, it's one of those tumor things with hair and teeth in it. Benign.' Now I know what it's really called, and that it's not always benign. (btw., she got an MRI after I told her the dream, it was a mass at the base of her spine that turned out to be much worse than a teratoma, but miraculously, about a third of the way through chemotherapy the mass disappeared. Not remission, disappearance. That was ten years ago, and she's fine. whew! I guess it happens that way sometimes.)

Connie Keller said...

Okay, so now I'm going to have nightmares. ;)

I loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Argh!The bits of brain and eyeballs really got me, but I venture to guess that all tumors have teeth (at least of the virtual sort). *shivers* This is great grist for horror stories, for sure.

Meredith said...

Ewwww. I think there was a Grey's Anatomy about this--a guy with a pregnant wife thought he was pregnant because he had a big mass with hair and teeth in it. That so gives me the heebie-jeebies!

Ghenet Myrthil said...

So weird! That clip is hilarious though! Love that movie too.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Haha I love that scene! I'm going to have to watch that movie again this week. And I love spanakopita!

Fetus in fetu is such creepy stuff! I enjoyed Stephen King's fictional take on it.

Lydia, any idea how common this is? How many people will experience something like this?

J.L. Campbell said...

Putting in the hair and teeth factor, these tumors sound eeewy.

M Pax said...

So is that what happened to that dude in Total Recall? I have to agree with Joy about eeewy.

I read the second one as spanks, but I'm sure it has nothing to do with control under garments. :)

LTM said...

that sounds kind of... gross. And super weird. :p But very interesting! And I can never say spanikoptia... :p <3

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Jennifer,
I can't pin down a good reference as to the incidence of teratomas. They tend to be classified according to location and the information is all over the place.

My best guess would be to say that there are thousands of diagnoses per year in the U.S, but not more than, say, 20,000.

Caitlin Vincent said...

I love My Big Fat Greek Wedding! It's hysterical :)

Btw, I have an award for you over on my blog if you'd like to come get it.

Carrie Butler said...

Ack! I swear, I always learn something over here. Great post, Lydia! :)

P.S. I love that movie!

Alleged Author said...

Wasn't something like that in Bentley Little's THE RESORT?

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss lydia! i cant think of nothing to say except ICK! ha ha
...hugs from lenny

Stephen Tremp said...

I do have a medical question. Its a bit in-depth, so I'll send you an email offline. Tomorrow. I'm going to bed now. Yawn.

Jo Schaffer said...

Great movie! Hilarious part where the weird aunt talks about her "twin". Ew!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I had heard about it, but didn't know the details. Quite scary for the sufferers.

Susan Fields said...

Fascinating! I'm sure I'd be quite freaked out to learn I had a mass of hair or teeth or eyes in my body!

Sarah said...

mmmm...spanikopita! i think i've got a cooking project coming up:)

Jonene Ficklin said...

I love that scene in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding!" I've heard about the twin thing, and recently watched a documentary called "Multiples in the Womb" that shows it a bit. Very weird and fun to learn about - thanks for filling us in!

LD Masterson said...

I do like a bit of the creepy in my writing but I think these things are too much for me. Too weird and made worse by the fact that they are real.

Olga said...

I've never heard of these before. Brrr. It is really scary.

KO: The Insect Collector said...

Lydia- thanks so much for the kind comments on my blog. Congrats on getting an agent, too!

Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

You would definitely have to use this condition in a horror story or possibly a comedy. Don't think it would work in a romance.

Roxy said...

Funny, super-smart post. I also love MBFGW! Thanks for enlightening us on this syndrome. I have learned something new today.

Misha said...

Not sure if it's just my imagination in overdrive, but the mental images I have of teratomas are giving me the heevie jeevies.

:-P

DL Hammons said...

The Dark Half was one of the Stephen King books that ultimately turned me off to him. So much promise squandered!

Towanda said...

Okay now. I am probably the most gullible person you would ever meet and so based on my gullibility, I tend to be quite skeptical at the same time. Here, I don't know what to think being in the midst of a bunch of writers, I have to wonder.

Is this true? Okay, I'll go google it. God bless Google. For now, who knows what they're growing into! :)

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, that's a little eerie. Lots of writer fodder there for sure!

Michelle Teacress said...

Oh my word. I love that movie. Talk about TMI. It was...my twin! Ew. HaHaHa!

Clarissa Draper said...

A friend of mine became pregnant and she was really excited about it. However, the baby just didn't grow right. She would always say something was wrong. Anyway, she went for a routine doctor's visit and they couldn't hear a heartbeat so they did an ultrasound. Long story short, what was growing inside of her wasn't a baby but a collection of parts. Is that the same thing you're talking about here?

tilley_girl said...

Read about this in jr high and 30+ years later, I still remember it and it creeps me out. Was a brain tumor that had hair and teeth.

 
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