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What is a teratoma?

A teratoma is a congenital (present prior to birth) tumor formed by different types of tissue. Teratomas in newborns are generally benign and don't spread. They can, however, be malignant, depending on the maturity and other types of cells that may be involved. Benign teratomas tend to grow aggressively, although they do not spread. Malignant teratomas tend to grow aggressively and spread to other parts of the body.

Teratoma | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of a teratoma?

Each child may experience symptoms differently, and symptoms vary widely depending on the size and location of the tumor.

Your child's symptoms may include:

  • a tumor, swelling, or mass that can be felt or seen
  • elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)
  • elevated levels of beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (B-HCG)
  • constipation, incontinence, and leg weakness — if the tumor is in the sacrum (a segment of the vertebral column that forms the top part of the pelvis)

What causes a teratoma?

The cause of most teratomas is not completely understood. Teratomas are often associated with a number of inherited defects that affect the central nervous system, genitourinary tract, and lower spine.

Teratoma | Diagnosis & Treatments

How are teratomas diagnosed?

They can often be seen on prenatal ultrasound. Other diagnostic procedures can include:

What is the treatment for a teratoma?

Specific treatment for teratoma depends on the type of teratoma your child has.

Treatment generally includes a biopsy and surgical removal of tumors or involved organs, performed by a pediatric surgeon.

If the tumor is malignant, treatment may also include chemotherapy, a drug treatment that works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Chemotherapy may be used alone for some types of cancer or in conjunction with other therapy such as radiation or surgery. While it can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, the agents do not differentiate normal healthy cells from cancer cells. Because of this, there can be many adverse side effects during treatment. Being able to anticipate these side effects can help the care team, parents, and child prepare, and, in some cases, prevent these symptoms from occurring, if possible.

What is the recommended long-term care for children treated for a teratoma?

Your child should visit a survivorship clinic every year to:

  • manage disease complications
  • screen for early recurrence of cancer
  • manage late effects of treatment

A typical follow-up visit may include some or all of the following:

  • a physical exam
  • laboratory testing
  • imaging scans

Through the David B. Perini Jr. Quality of Life Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, childhood cancer survivors receive a comprehensive follow-up evaluation from their cancer care team.

  • Our childhood cancer survivorship clinic is held weekly.
  • In addition to meeting with your pediatric oncologists, your child may see one of our endocrinologists, cardiologists, neurologists, neuro-psychologists, or alternative/complementary therapy specialists.

We also offer the following services:

  • patient and family education
  • psychosocial assessment
  • genetic counseling
  • reproductive and fertility evaluation and counseling
  • opportunities to speak with other childhood cancer survivors

How we care for teratomas

Through Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, a 50-year partnership between Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children's Hospital, your child will receive individualized care to treat every aspect of his condition from an expert team of specialists.

Your child will also benefit from a team of researchers striving to understand the scientific causes of teratomas, which results in continual introduction of new treatment options.

Teratoma | Programs & Services