Thyroglossal cyst

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Thyroglossal cyst
Thyreoglossal duct cyst.jpg
Thyroglossal cyst
Specialty Medical genetics

A thyroglossal cyst is a fibrous cyst that forms from a persistent thyroglossal duct. Thyroglossal cysts can be defined as an irregular neck mass or a lump which develops from cells and tissues left over after the formation of the thyroid gland during developmental stages. [1]


Thyroglossal cysts are the most common cause of midline neck masses and are generally located caudal to (below) the hyoid bone. These neck masses can occur anywhere along the path of the thyroglossal duct, from the base of the tongue to the suprasternal notch. [2] Other common causes of midline neck masses include lymphadenopathy, dermoid cysts, and various odontogenic anomalies. [2]

Thyroglossal cysts develop at birth. Many diagnostic procedures may be used to establish the degree of the cyst.

Signs and symptoms

Thyroglossal duct cysts most often present with a palpable asymptomatic midline neck mass usually below [65% of the time] the level of the hyoid bone. The mass on the neck moves during swallowing or on protrusion of the tongue because of its attachment to the tongue via the tract of thyroid descent. Some patients will have neck or throat pain, or dysphagia.[ citation needed ]

The persistent duct or sinus can promote oral secretions, which may cause cysts to become infected. Up to half of thyroglossal cysts are not diagnosed until adult life. The tract can lie dormant for years or even decades, until some kind of stimulus leads to cystic dilation. Infection can sometimes cause the transient appearance of a mass or enlargement of the cyst, at times with periodic recurrences. Spontaneous drainage may also occur. Differential diagnosis are ectopic thyroid, enlarged lymph nodes, dermoid cysts and goiter.[ citation needed ]

Thyroglossal cyst usually presents as a midline neck lump (in the region of the hyoid bone) that is usually painless, smooth and cystic, though if infected, pain can occur. There may be difficulty breathing, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), or dyspepsia (discomfort in the upper abdomen), especially if the cyst becomes large.[ citation needed ]

The most common location for a thyroglossal cyst is midline or slightly off midline, between the isthmus of the thyroid and the hyoid bone or just above the hyoid bone. A thyroglossal cyst can develop anywhere along a thyroglossal duct, though cysts within the tongue or in the floor of the mouth are rare.[ citation needed ]A thyroglossal cyst will move upwards with protrusion of the tongue.[ citation needed ]Thyroglossal cysts are associated with an increased incidence of ectopic thyroid tissue. Occasionally, a lingual thyroid can be seen as a flattened strawberry-like lump at the base of the tongue. [3]



An infected thyroglossal duct cyst can occur when it is left untreated for a certain amount of time or simply when a thyroglossal duct cyst hasn't been suspected. The degree of infection can be examined as major rim enhancement has occurred, located inferior to the hyoid bone. Soft tissue swelling occurs, along with airway obstruction and trouble swallowing, due to the rapid enlargement of the cyst. [2] With infections, there can be rare cases where an expression of fluid is projected into the pharynx causing other problems within the neck. [4]

Thyroglossal Fistula

A thyroglossal duct cyst may rupture unexpectedly, resulting in a draining sinus known as a thyroglossal fistula. [2] Thyroglossal fistula can develop when the removal of the cyst has not been fully completed. This is usually noticed when bleeding in the neck occurs, causing swelling and fluid ejection around the original wound of removal. [5]

Thyroglossal duct cyst carcinoma

Thyroglossal cyst with papillary excrescences (magnified at right), where microscopy showed papillary thyroid cancer. Thyroglossal cyst with papillary thyroid cancer (annotated).jpg
Thyroglossal cyst with papillary excrescences (magnified at right), where microscopy showed papillary thyroid cancer.

Rarely (in less than 1% of cases), cancer may be present in a thyroglossal duct cyst. [6] These tumors are generally papillary thyroid carcinomas, [6] arising from the ectopic thyroid tissue within the cyst. [7] [8]


Thyroglossal Duct Cysts are a birth defect. During embryonic development, the thyroid gland is being formed, beginning at the base of the tongue and moving towards the neck canal, known as the thyroglossal duct. Once the thyroid reaches its final position in the neck, the duct normally disappears. In some individuals, portions of the duct remain behind, leaving small pockets, known as cysts. During a person's life, these cyst pockets can fill with fluids and mucus, enlarging when infected, presenting the thyroglossal cyst. [1]


The thyroglossal tract arises from the foramen cecum at the junction of the anterior two-thirds and posterior one-third of the tongue. Any part of the tract can persist, causing a sinus, fistula or cyst. Most fistulae are acquired following rupture or incision of the infected thyroglossal cyst. A thyroglossal cyst is lined by pseudostratified, ciliated columnar epithelium while a thyroglossal fistula is lined by columnar epithelium.[ citation needed ]


Ultrasound image of thyroglossal duct cyst Thyroglossal Duct Cyst 150117131348265.jpg
Ultrasound image of thyroglossal duct cyst

Diagnosis of a thyroglossal duct cyst requires a medical professional, and is usually done by a physical examination. It is important to identify whether or not the thyroglossal cyst contains any thyroid tissue, as it can define the degree of cyst that is being dealt with. [1]

Diagnostic procedures for a thyroglossal cyst include: [1]

Blood Test Blood testing of thyroid function.
Ultrasound Image capture of the degree of mass and its surrounding tissues.
Thyroid ScanRadioactive iodine or technetium (a radioactive metallic element) is used in this procedure to show any abnormalities of the thyroid.
Fine Needle AspirationThe removal of cells for biopsy, using a needle

Clinical features

Clinical features can be found in the subhyoid portion of the tract and 75% present as midline swellings. The remainder can be found as far lateral as the lateral tip of the hyoid bone.[ citation needed ]

Typically, the cyst will move upwards on protrusion of the tongue, given its attachment to the embryonic duct, as well as on swallowing, due to attachment of the tract to the foramen caecum.[ citation needed ]


Although generally benign, the cyst must be removed if the patient exhibits difficulty in breathing or swallowing, or if the cyst is infected. Even if these symptoms are not present, the cyst may be removed to eliminate the chance of infection or development of a carcinoma, [9]

Thyroid scans and thyroid function studies are ordered preoperatively; this is important to demonstrate that normally functioning thyroid tissue is in its usual area.[ citation needed ]

Surgical management options include the Sistrunk procedure, en bloc central neck dissection, suture-guided transhyoid pharyngotomy, and Koempel's supra-hyoid technique. [10] Cystectomy is an inadequate approach. [11]

Sistrunk Procedure

The Sistrunk procedure is the surgical resection of the central portion of the hyoid bone along with a wide core of tissue from the midline area between the hyoid and foramen cecum. [12] It involves excision not only of the cyst but also of the path's tract and branches, and removal of the central portion of the hyoid bone is indicated to ensure complete removal of the tract. The original Sistrunk papers (the "classic" procedure described in 1920, and the "modified" procedure described in 1928) are available on-line with a modern commentary. [13] [14]

In general, the procedure consists of three steps:

  1. incision
  2. resection of cyst and hyoid bone
  3. drainage and closure

There are several versions of the Sistrunk procedure, including:

The procedure is relatively safe. In a study of 35 pediatric patients, Maddalozzo et al. found no major complications, but did observe minor complications (6 patients presented with seroma and 4 patients with local wound infections). [16] A more recent paper analyzed 24 research studies on different treatment complications of thyroglossal cyst, and reported a total minor complications rate of 6% for the Sistrunk operation (classical or modified) and simple cystectomy treatment modalities. [17] The Sistrunk procedure also showed better outcomes concerning the rate of overall recurrence, i.e. has the lowest rate of recurrence. [17]

Sistrunk procedure results in a 95% cure rate and 95–100% long-term survival. [18]


  1. 90% of cases are presented in children before the age of 10 [19]
  2. 70% of neck anomalies are from Thyroglossal cysts [19]
  3. Thyroglossal Duct Cysts are the second most common neck abnormalities after lymphadenopathy [19]
  4. A person can live with a Thyroglossal Duct Cyst without any problems, until a pathology develops. [19]
  5. Approximately 7% of the population has thyroglossal duct remnants [20]
  6. Thyroglossal duct carcinoma occurs in approximately 1 to 2% of Thyroglossal cyst cases. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Otorhinolaryngology</span> Medical specialty

Otorhinolaryngology is a surgical subspeciality within medicine that deals with the surgical and medical management of conditions of the head and neck. Doctors who specialize in this area are called otorhinolaryngologists, otolaryngologists, head and neck surgeons, or ENT surgeons or physicians. Patients seek treatment from an otorhinolaryngologist for diseases of the ear, nose, throat, base of the skull, head, and neck. These commonly include functional diseases that affect the senses and activities of eating, drinking, speaking, breathing, swallowing, and hearing. In addition, ENT surgery encompasses the surgical management of cancers and benign tumors and reconstruction of the head and neck as well as plastic surgery of the face and neck.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroid</span> Endocrine gland in the neck; secretes hormones that influence metabolism

The thyroid, or thyroid gland, is an endocrine gland in vertebrates. In humans it is in the neck and consists of two connected lobes. The lower two thirds of the lobes are connected by a thin band of tissue called the thyroid isthmus. The thyroid is located at the front of the neck, below the Adam's apple. Microscopically, the functional unit of the thyroid gland is the spherical thyroid follicle, lined with follicular cells (thyrocytes), and occasional parafollicular cells that surround a lumen containing colloid. The thyroid gland secretes three hormones: the two thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) – and a peptide hormone, calcitonin. The thyroid hormones influence the metabolic rate and protein synthesis, and in children, growth and development. Calcitonin plays a role in calcium homeostasis. Secretion of the two thyroid hormones is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is secreted from the anterior pituitary gland. TSH is regulated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which is produced by the hypothalamus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gallbladder</span> Organ in humans and other vertebrates

In vertebrates, the gallbladder, also known as the cholecyst, is a small hollow organ where bile is stored and concentrated before it is released into the small intestine. In humans, the pear-shaped gallbladder lies beneath the liver, although the structure and position of the gallbladder can vary significantly among animal species. It receives and stores bile, produced by the liver, via the common hepatic duct, and releases it via the common bile duct into the duodenum, where the bile helps in the digestion of fats.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fistula</span> Abnormal connection between two epithelialized surfaces, often organs

A fistula in anatomy is an abnormal connection between two hollow spaces, such as blood vessels, intestines, or other hollow organs. Types of fistula can be described by their location. Anal fistulas connect between the anal canal and the perianal skin. Anovaginal or rectovaginal fistulas occur when a hole develops between the anus or rectum and the vagina. Colovaginal fistulas occur between the colon and the vagina. Urinary tract fistulas are abnormal openings within the urinary tract or an abnormal connection between the urinary tract and another organ such as between the bladder and the uterus in a vesicouterine fistula, between the bladder and the vagina in a vesicovaginal fistula, and between the urethra and the vagina in urethrovaginal fistula. When occurring between two parts of the intestine, it is known as an enteroenteral fistula, between the small intestine and the skin as an enterocutaneous fistula, and between the colon and the skin as a colocutaneous fistula.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pilonidal disease</span> Skin infection between the buttocks

Pilonidal disease is a type of skin infection which typically occurs as a cyst between the cheeks of the buttocks and often at the upper end. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and redness. There may also be drainage of fluid, but rarely a fever.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Orbit (anatomy)</span> Cavity or socket of the skull in which the eye and its appendages are situated

In anatomy, the orbit is the cavity or socket of the skull in which the eye and its appendages are situated. "Orbit" can refer to the bony socket, or it can also be used to imply the contents. In the adult human, the volume of the orbit is 30 millilitres, of which the eye occupies 6.5 ml. The orbital contents comprise the eye, the orbital and retrobulbar fascia, extraocular muscles, cranial nerves II, III, IV, V, and VI, blood vessels, fat, the lacrimal gland with its sac and duct, the eyelids, medial and lateral palpebral ligaments, cheek ligaments, the suspensory ligament, septum, ciliary ganglion and short ciliary nerves.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dermoid cyst</span> Medical condition

A dermoid cyst is a teratoma of a cystic nature that contains an array of developmentally mature, solid tissues. It frequently consists of skin, hair follicles, and sweat glands, while other commonly found components include clumps of long hair, pockets of sebum, blood, fat, bone, nail, teeth, eyes, cartilage, and thyroid tissue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroglossal duct</span>

The thyroglossal duct is an embryological anatomical structure forming an open connection between the initial area of development of the thyroid gland and its final position. It is located exactly mid-line, between the anterior 2/3 and posterior 1/3 of the tongue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maxillary sinus</span> Largest of the paranasal sinuses, and drains into the middle meatus of the nose

The pyramid-shaped maxillary sinus is the largest of the paranasal sinuses, and drains into the middle meatus of the nose through the osteomeatal complex.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ranula</span> Medical condition

A ranula is a mucus extravasation cyst involving a sublingual gland and is a type of mucocele found on the floor of the mouth. Ranulae present as a swelling of connective tissue consisting of collected mucin from a ruptured salivary gland caused by local trauma. If small and asymptomatic further treatment may not be needed, otherwise minor oral surgery may be indicated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Head and neck anatomy</span>

This article describes the anatomy of the head and neck of the human body, including the brain, bones, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, glands, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, and throat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Persistent thyroglossal duct</span> Medical condition

A persistent thyroglossal duct is a usually benign medical condition in which the thyroglossal duct, a structure usually only found during embryonic development, fails to atrophy. The duct persists as a midline structure forming an open connection between the back of the tongue and the thyroid gland. This opening can lead to fluid accumulation and infection, which necessitate the removal of the duct.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Branchial cleft cyst</span> Medical condition

A branchial cleft cyst is a cyst as a swelling in the upper part of neck anterior to sternocleidomastoid. It can, but does not necessarily, have an opening to the skin surface, called a fistula. The cause is usually a developmental abnormality arising in the early prenatal period, typically failure of obliteration of the second, third, and fourth branchial cleft, i.e. failure of fusion of the second branchial arches and epicardial ridge in lower part of the neck. Branchial cleft cysts account for almost 20% of neck masses in children. Less commonly, the cysts can develop from the first, third, or fourth clefts, and their location and the location of associated fistulas differs accordingly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preauricular sinus and cyst</span> Medical condition

Preauricular sinuses and preauricular cysts are two common congenital malformations. Each involves the external ear. The difference between them is that a cyst does not connect with the skin, but a sinus does. Frequency of preauricular sinus differs depending the population: 0.1–0.9% in the US, 0.9% in the UK, and 4–10% in Asia and parts of Africa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thyroid dysgenesis</span> Medical condition

Thyroid dysgenesis is a cause of congenital hypothyroidism where the thyroid is missing, ectopic, or severely underdeveloped. It should not be confused with iodine deficiency, or with other forms of congenital hypothyroidism, such as thyroid dyshormonogenesis, where the thyroid is present but not functioning correctly.

Acute infectious thyroiditis (AIT) also known as suppurative thyroiditis, microbial inflammatory thyroiditis, pyrogenic thyroiditis and bacterial thyroiditis.

Ectopic thymus is a condition where thymus tissue is found in an abnormal location. It usually does not cause symptoms, but may leads to a mass in the neck that may compress the trachea and the esophagus. It is thought to be the result of either a failure of descent or a failure of involution of normal thymus tissue. It may be diagnosed with radiology, such as an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging. If it causes illness, surgery can be used to remove it. Recurrence after surgery is very unlikely.

A cyst is a pathological epithelial lined cavity that fills with fluid or soft material and usually grows from internal pressure generated by fluid being drawn into the cavity from osmosis. The bones of the jaws, the mandible and maxilla, are the bones with the highest prevalence of cysts in the human body. This is due to the abundant amount of epithelial remnants that can be left in the bones of the jaws. The enamel of teeth is formed from ectoderm, and so remnants of epithelium can be left in the bone during odontogenesis. The bones of the jaws develop from embryologic processes which fuse, and ectodermal tissue may be trapped along the lines of this fusion. This "resting" epithelium is usually dormant or undergoes atrophy, but, when stimulated, may form a cyst. The reasons why resting epithelium may proliferate and undergo cystic transformation are generally unknown, but inflammation is thought to be a major factor. The high prevalence of tooth impactions and dental infections that occur in the bones of the jaws is also significant to explain why cysts are more common at these sites.

A urethral diverticulum is a condition where the urethra or the periurethral glands push into the connective tissue layers (fascia) that surround it.

In CT scan of the thyroid, focal and diffuse thyroid abnormalities are commonly encountered. These findings can often lead to a diagnostic dilemma, as the CT reflects the nonspecific appearances. Ultrasound (US) examination has a superior spatial resolution and is considered the modality of choice for thyroid evaluation. Nevertheless, CT detects incidental thyroid nodules (ITNs) and plays an important role in the evaluation of thyroid cancer.


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Further reading