The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
What Families and Physicians Should Know About Teratomas — What are Teratomas?

Loraine Kelly, parent of Emily: I had Emily June 1, 1998. And in my fifth month of pregnancy, they found that she had a giant neck mass.

Victoria Dougherty, parent of Josephine: We had a lot of questions when we first got the teratoma diagnosis.

Loraine Kelly: It was just scary because we never heard of this before.

Victoria Dougherty: The things that I was looking for were Down syndrome and the types of birth defects that you hear about.

Loraine Kelly: There were eight friends and family members that were pregnant at the same time as me, and I was the only one that was going to have a baby that was going to have a problem.

Victoria Dougherty: That was the hardest part, I think, is having to come to terms with all the things that could go wrong.

Loraine Kelly: But the care that we had down at Children's and all the doctors and nurses just made it really comforting for us, and they were really helpful in walking us through everything.

Alan W. Flake, MD: I think any type of teratoma is one of the most difficult things to deal with as a prospective mother and family.

Lori J. Howell, RN: One day they might seem perfectly in control. Another day they might be all in tears.

N. Scott Adzick, MD: They come to us looking for help, and they come to us looking for hope.

Alan W. Flake, MD: It's a situation that is extremely stressful and difficult and one that you never anticipate will happen to you.

N. Scott Adzick, MD: So the good news for families is that there are places like this where there is multidisciplinary expertise that can enhance the baby's chances to survive and to survive with a good life.

Alan W. Flake, MD: A teratoma is a tumor that's derived from stem cells, actually. And they're the type of stem cells that can turn into any tissue of the body.

N. Scott Adzick, MD: Imagine a tumor that can have virtually any sort of body tissue within it, yet it be in a place in the body where those tissues don't normally occur.

Lori J. Howell, RN: Oftentimes they can be almost as big as the baby, prenatally. And so it's very difficult for parents to even imagine what their baby might look like with that ugly mass either on their neck or their butt or in their chest.

N. Scott Adzick, MD: Teratomas appear in the midline in unusual locations -- the tailbone, for a sacrococcygeal teratoma, the mediastinum, which is in the chest, and cervical teratomas, which are in the neck.

Mark P. Johnson, MD: I think, of all the anomalies that we deal with on a relatively routine basis, the teratomas are probably the most difficult, challenging and frustrating.

N. Scott Adzick, MD: Teratomas are quite rare. Sacrococcygeal teratomas are the most common tumors of newborns.

Alan W. Flake, MD: The cause of teratomas is mysterious. We really don't know why they occur.

Lori J. Howell, RN: In the fetal period, early neonatal period, these are nonmalignant tumors.

N. Scott Adzick, MD: Most of the teratomas diagnosed before birth or those diagnosed in newborns are not cancerous yet. But invariably, if they are not dealt with, cancer will occur in almost all circumstances.

Alan W. Flake, MD: So we like to resect the tumors early and, in most circumstances, it's curative.