Diagnosis and management of ectopic cervical thymus in children: Systematic review of the literature

Anette Chang, Ramesh M. Nataraja, Eduard Pudel, Robert Stunden, Stephen Baré, Maurizio Pacilli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background/Purpose: Ectopic cervical thymus (ECT) is a rare cause of neck swelling in children. Our aim was to evaluate the diagnostic and management challenges of this condition. Methods: Systematic review of the literature (1997–2020) using PRISMA guidelines. Results: A total of 192 cases of ECT were identified. Forty-two cases (4 studies) were excluded because of insufficient data resulting in 150 cases (7 bilateral) in a total of 143 patients. ECT presented as a solid mass in 71 cases (10 incidentally found at autopsy, 33 conservatively managed and 28 excised) and as a cystic mass in 79 cases (all excised). A total of 165 imaging studies in 123 patients were performed (65 ultrasound scans (USS), 51 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and 49 computer tomography (CT) scans). ECT was diagnosed by imaging in 18.7% (23/123) of patients. Fine needle aspiration cytology or incisional/needle biopsy were performed in 16% (23/140) cases; a correct diagnosis of ECT was obtained in 52% (12/23) of those cases. There were no reports of malignancy in 143 specimens analysed. A normal mediastinal thymus was absent in 2.5% (1/40) of patients investigated. Conclusions: ECT is a benign and relatively rare condition in children that is seldom diagnosed on imaging before tissue sampling or surgical excision. ECT might be the only active thymus in 2.5% of cases and careful consideration should be taken prior to its excision in young children. We recommend that ECT should be considered in the differential diagnosis of neck masses in children. Conservative management might be appropriate in selected cases and the presence of a normal mediastinal thymus in the thorax should be investigated before planning surgical excision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2062-2068
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pediatric Surgery
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Cervical thymic cyst
  • Cervical thymus
  • Children

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