• Clinical science

Congenital neck masses


Congenital neck masses are developmental anomalies typically seen in infants or children. Common conditions include thyroglossal duct cysts, branchial cleft cysts, and cystic hygromas. These malformations present as painless neck masses, which can cause dysphagia, respiratory distress, and neck pain due to compression of surrounding structures. The location of the mass depends on the embryological structure the cysts arise from. Diagnosis is made based on clinical findings and imaging results (ultrasound, CT, MRI), which also help in surgical planning. Treatment consists of complete surgical resection to prevent recurrence and complications such as infection or abscess formation.

Thyroglossal duct cyst

Thyroglossal duct cysts will present in a child as a painless, firm, midline neck mass that moves with swallowing and tongue movement.


Branchial cleft cyst

  • Definition: remnants of the embryological second branchial cleft or cervical sinus
  • Epidemiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical features
    • Usually diagnosed in late childhood/adulthood after previously undiagnosed cyst becomes infected
    • Often a history of preceding upper respiratory infection
    • Painless, firm mass lateral to midline, usually anterior to the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which does not move with swallowing
    • Small draining opening may be present if fistula is present.
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment: : complete surgical excision of both the cyst and any associated tracts
  • Complication: s: infection of the cyst, tract, or sinus with possible abscess formation

Branchial cleft cysts will present in a child as a painless, firm neck mass lateral to the midline.


Cystic hygroma

  • Definition: congenital malformation consisting of cyst-like cavities containing lymph
  • Epidemiology
  • Clinical features
    • Soft, compressible, painless neck mass
    • Classically found in the posterior triangle of the neck
    • Can cause dysphagia or airway compromise
    • Can be transilluminated
  • Diagnosis
    • Prenatal ultrasound : fluid-filled structure that can be single or multilocular
    • Ultrasound used to identify mass in infancy
    • CT or MRI may be used to further assess anatomical structures for surgical planning.
  • Treatment: : Small masses may regress spontaneously, but surgical excision is indicated to prevent infection of the mass or airway compromise.


Differential diagnoses


The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.