Cervical Teratoma

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

Skip to the navigation


It is possible that the main title of the report Cervical Teratoma is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • primary thyroid teratoma

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Cervical teratomas are extremely rare germ cell tumors (neoplasm) that occur in the neck. The majority of teratomas occur in the testes or ovaries (gonads) or the lower back (sacrococcygeal region). In rare cases, other areas such as the neck may be affected. Most cervical tumors occur in children and are non-cancerous (benign). In extremely rare cases, cervical teratomas occur in adults and are usually cancerous (malignant).

The term "cancer" refers to a group of diseases characterized by abnormal, uncontrolled cellular growth that invades surrounding tissues and may spread (metastasize) to distant bodily tissues or organs via the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, or other means. Different forms of cancer are be classified based upon the cell type involved, the specific nature of the malignancy, and the disease's clinical course.

Teratomas are germ cell tumors that, in rare cases, occur in the head and neck region. Some researchers differentiate between cervical and primary thyroid teratomas. For a diagnosis of primary thyroid teratoma one of three conditions must be met: a tumor must occupy a portion of the thyroid gland, a direct connection must exist between the tumor and the thyroid, or a teratoma is accompanied by the absence of the thyroid. However, most cervical teratomas have some type of relationship with the thyroid and the clinical picture and prognosis between these tumors is the same. Therefore, many researchers have abandoned separating these tumors and classify all neck teratomas as cervical teratomas.


Symptoms of cervical teratomas may vary from case to case. The tumors may be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Cervical teratomas are more common in children than adults. In children they are usually benign; in adults they are usually malignant.

The specific symptoms associated with cervical teratomas in children vary depending upon the size of the tumor. Small tumors may not cause any symptoms (asymptomatic). However, a large teratoma may cause disfigurement and compress nearby structures such as the windpipe (trachea). Such large tumors may cause additional symptoms including a wheezing or whistling sound when breathing (stridor), difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath (dyspnea). These tumors can also compress the esophagus, inhibiting swallowing. Eventually, compression of vital structures may cause life-threatening complications such as respiratory distress.

Cervical teratomas in adults are extremely rare. In most cases, they are malignant and may spread (metastasize) to nearby lymph nodes and other organs of the body, especially the lungs. As in children, cervical teratomas in adults can compress nearby structures such as the windpipe resulting in respiratory distress and additional symptoms.


The exact cause of cervical teratomas is unknown. These tumors appear to occur randomly for no apparent reason (sporadic). Investigators are conducting ongoing basic research to learn more about the many factors that may result in tumor formation.

Cervical teratomas are germ cell tumors. Germ cells are the cells that develop into the embryo and later on become the cells that make up the reproductive system of men and women. Most germ cell tumors occur in the testes or ovaries (gonads) or the lower back (sacrococcygeal region). When these tumors occur outside of the gonads, they are known as extragonadal tumors.

Teratomas consist of cells foreign to the part of the body where the teratoma forms. They consist of cells from the three major tissue layers of an embryo: ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm. These embryonic layers eventually give rise to the various cells and structures of the body. Researchers do not know how extragonadal germ cell tumors form. Several theories have been proposed.

One theory suggests that germ cells accidentally migrate to unusual locations early during the development of the embryo (embryogenesis). Normally, such misplaced germ cells degenerate and die, but in cases of extragonadal teratomas researchers speculate that these cells continue to undergo mitosis, the process where cells divide and multiply, eventually forming a teratoma.

Affected Populations

Cervical teratomas affect men and women in equal numbers. Germ cell tumors account for 3-5 percent of all tumors in childhood. Cervical teratomas are much more common in newborns than adults. Fewer than 50 cases of cervical teratomas in adults have been reported in the medical literature.

Standard Therapies


The diagnosis of a cervical teratoma is based upon a thorough clinical evaluation, identification of characteristic physical findings, a detailed patient history, and a variety of specialized tests. Such testing includes microscopic evaluation of tumor cells.

Prenatal diagnosis of cervical teratomas is possible via ultrasound, a procedure during which reflected sound waves create an image of the developing fetus. Large tumors may be readily apparent on a fetal ultrasound, the neck may appear hyper-extended, or associated findings such as excessive amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) may be detected. In adults, a mass may be detected in the neck during a routine physical exam.

To confirm a diagnosis of cervical teratoma a variety of tests may be performed including fine-needle aspiration (FNA). FNA is a diagnostic technique in which a thin, hollow needle is passed though the skin and inserted into the nodule to withdraw small samples of tissue from the nodule. The collected tissue is then studied under a microscope.

In some cases, FNA may prove inconclusive and physicians may perform a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small sample tissue is surgically removed and sent to a pathology laboratory where it is processed and studied to determine its microscopic structure and makeup (histopathology).

In addition to ultrasound, additional specialized imaging techniques may be used to help evaluate the size, placement, and extension of a tumor and to serve as an aid for future surgical procedures. Such imaging techniques may include computerized tomography (CT) scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). During CT scanning, a computer and x-rays are used to create a film showing cross-sectional images of certain tissue structures. An MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce cross-sectional images of particular organs and bodily tissues.

In approximately 50 percent of cases, the appearance of clusters of calcium (calcifications) can be detected on x-rays, a finding suggestive of a teratoma. Laboratory tests and specialized imaging tests may also be conducted to determine possible infiltration of regional lymph nodes and the presence of distant metastases.


The therapeutic management of individuals with cervical teratomas may require the coordinated efforts of a team of medical professionals, such as physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer (medical oncologists), specialists in the use of radiation to treat cancer (radiation oncologists), specialists in maternal-fetal health (perinatologists), specialists in the ear, nose and throat (otolaryngologists), pediatric surgeons, oncology nurses, and other specialists.

Specific therapeutic procedures and interventions may vary, depending upon numerous factors, such as primary tumor location, extent of the primary tumor (stage), and degree of malignancy (grade); whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes or distant sites; individual's age and general health; and/or other elements. Decisions concerning the use of particular interventions should be made by physicians and other members of the health care team in careful consultation with the patient, based upon the specifics of his or her case; a thorough discussion of the potential benefits and risks; patient preference; and other appropriate factors.

In most individuals with a cervical teratoma, surgical removal of the tumor and affected tissue is performed. Although most teratomas in children are benign, they can compress the windpipe and nearby structures necessitating their removal.

In cases diagnosed before birth (prenatally), a procedure known as ex utero intrapartum treatment (EXIT) may be performed. In this procedure, surgery is performed as an affected baby is born via Cesarean section. The baby remains attached to the placenta so normal blood flow exchange occurs while physicians perform necessary surgical procedures.

In order to secure the airway, physicians may need to insert a breathing tube (endotracheal tube). In some cases, physicians may perform a tracheostomy, a surgical procedure in which an incision is made in the windpipe (trachea) to create a temporary opening to allow the passage of air.

Adults with a cervical teratoma are treated by complete surgical removal of the tumor. Radiation therapy may be used before surgery (to decrease tumor size) or after surgery as an adjuvant therapy. Chemotherapy immediately after surgery has also been used to treat individuals with cervical teratomas.

Surgical removal of a cervical teratoma may involve the removal of a portion of or the entire thyroid. In such cases, affected individuals must go on hormone replacement therapy to obtain the hormones normally produced by the thyroid.

Infants with a benign cervical teratoma rarely experience recurrence of the tumor. Malignant cervical teratomas such as those found in adults recur more often. Affected individuals must be monitored periodically to check for recurrence.

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010

Email: prpl@cc.nih.gov

For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:


Information on cancer Clinical Trials is available through the Internet on www.cancer.gov or by calling (800) 4 CANCER.

Contact for additional information about cervical teratoma:

N. Scott Adzick, MD

C. Everett Koop Professor of Pediatric Surgery

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard

Philadelphia, Pa. 19104





Kirchhoff M, Zimmermann B, Gundlach KK, Henkel KO. Neonatal cervical teratoma: case report. Mund Kiefer Gesichtschir. 2006; 10(4):259-62.

Riedlinger WF, Lack EE, Robson CD, Rahbar R, Nose V. Primary thyroid teratomas in children: a report of 11 cases with a proposal of criteria for their diagnosis. Am J Surg Pathol. 2005;29(5):700-6.

Lukman MR, Jasmi AY, Sarinah B, Nurishmah I, Aishah AS. Malignant cervical teratoma in an adult presenting with impending airway obstruction. Asian J Surg. 2005;28(3):227-9.

Di Cataldo A, Sgroi AV, Occhipinti R, et al. Rare malignant tumors of the thyroid. G Chir. 2004;25(11-12):420-3.

Tsang RW, Brierley JD, Asa SL, Sturgeon JF. Malignant teratoma of the thyroid: aggressive chemoradiation therapy is required after surgery. Thyroid. 2003;13(4):401-4.

Thompson LD, Rosai J, Heffess CS. Primary thyroid teratomas: a clinicopathologic study of 30 cases. Cancer. 2000;88(5):1149-58.

Wakhlu A, Wakhlu AK. Head and neck teratomas in children. Pediatr Surg Int. 2000;16(5-6):333-7.

Elmasalme F, Giacomantaonio M, Clarke KD, Othman E, Matbouli S. Congenital cervical teratoma in neonates. Case report and review. Eur J Pediatr Surg. 2000;10(4):252-7.

Chen JS, Lai GM, Hsueh S. Malignant thyroid teratoma of an adult: a long-term survival after chemotherapy. Am J Clin Oncol. 1998;21(2):212-4.

April MM, Ward RF, Garelick JM. Diagnosis, management, and follow-up of congenital head and neck teratomas. Laryngoscope. 1998;108:1398-401.

Kountakis SE, Minotti AM, Maillard A, Stiernberg CM. Teratomas of the head and neck. Am J Otolaryngol. 1994;15(4):292-6.


Hamilton CA, Ellison MC. Cystic Teratoma. Emedicine. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/281850-overview. Updated January 17, 2012. Accessed March 13, 2012.

Adkins ES III. Pediatric Teratomas and Other Germ Cell Tumors. Emedicine. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/939938-overview. Updated December 2, 2011. Accessed March 13, 2012.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Health Information. http://www.chop.edu/service/fetal-diagnosis-and-treatment/fetal-diagnoses/giant-neck-masses-gnm-cervical-teratoma.html. Updated June 2011. Accessed March 13, 2012.


March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation

1275 Mamaroneck Avenue

White Plains, NY 10605

Tel: (914)997-4488

Fax: (914)997-4763

Internet: http://www.marchofdimes.com

American Childhood Cancer Organization

10920 Connecticut Ave

Suite A

Kensington, MD 20895

Tel: (301)962-3520

Fax: (301)962-3521

Tel: (800)366-2223

Email: staff@acco.org

Internet: http://www.acco.org

American Cancer Society, Inc.

250 Williams NW St

Ste 6000

Atlanta, GA 30303


Tel: (404)320-3333

Tel: (800)227-2345

TDD: (866)228-4327

Internet: http://www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute

6116 Executive Blvd Suite 300

Bethesda, MD 20892-8322


Tel: (301)435-3848

Tel: (800)422-6237

TDD: (800)332-8615

Email: cancergovstaff@mail.nih.gov

Internet: http://www.cancer.gov

Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer, Inc.

P.O. Box 53

Locust Valley, NY 11560-0053


Tel: (516)759-5333

Fax: (516)671-8794

Tel: (800)377-0928

Email: info@spohnc.org

Internet: http://www.spohnc.org

Rare Cancer Alliance

1649 North Pacana Way

Green Valley, AZ 85614


Internet: http://www.rare-cancer.org

Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

PO Box 8126

Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126

Tel: (301)251-4925

Fax: (301)251-4911

Tel: (888)205-2311

TDD: (888)205-3223

Internet: http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD/

For a Complete Report

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.® (NORD). Cigna members can access the complete report by logging into myCigna.com. For non-Cigna members, a copy of the complete report can be obtained for a small fee by visiting the NORD website. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational treatments (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, see http://www.rarediseases.org/search/rdblist.html.