Cystic Hygroma

What is a cystic hygroma?

A cystic hygroma — or lymphangioma — is a birth defect that appears as a sac-like structure with a thin wall that most commonly occurs in the head and neck area of an infant. As the baby grows in the womb, it can develop from pieces of material that carries fluid and white blood cells. Such material is called embryonic lymphatic tissue. After birth, a cystic hygroma usually looks like a soft bulge under the skin. The cyst can't be seen until after birth and sometimes is not noticed until the person is older.


A common symptom is a neck mass found at birth or discovered later in an infant after an upper respiratory tract infection. 


Diagnosis is made by physical examination, possibly including:


Treatment involves surgical removal of the abnormal tissue whenever possible. However, cystic hygromas can often invade other parts of the neck, making this impossible.

Other treatments have been attempted with only limited success, including:

  • Chemotherapy medications

  • Injection of sclerosing medications

  • Radiation therapy

  • Steroids

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