Written by April Kahn | Published on August 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Branchioma?

Branchiomas are also called branchial cleft cysts. They are non-cancerous growths that usually form under the skin on the side of the neck. They may be located as high as the jawline or as low as the collarbone. These oval-shaped masses are slightly moveable and begin developing in utero. Surgery can be used to remove a branchioma after birth. The goal is to prevent infection or further growth.

What Causes a Branchioma to Grow?

There are small grooves in the neck that appear during early fetal development. These grooves are known as branchial clefts. Normally, they disappear over time. If they don’t, a thin, tubular mass of tissue forms under the skin of the neck.

This is a condition that begins in the womb. Therefore, branchioma are most commonly seen in young children.

How Do I Know If I Have a Branchioma?

People with branchial cleft cysts normally have no symptoms. However, the cyst may begin to drain clear fluid from an opening on the lower side of the neck. If the fluid doesn’t leak and begins to accumulate, the tube swells and causes a cyst.

Signs of a branchioma are:

  • an olive or egg-sized growth under the skin on the side of the neck
  • pain in the area containing the growth
  • a moveable mass under the skin

Most of the time, the tube itself causes no pain. However, if it becomes a cyst or gets infected, the area can become extremely painful.

How Are Branchiomas Diagnosed?

During a physical examination, a lump can be felt under the skin of the neck. Your doctor will order more tests to confirm a diagnosis.

One way of diagnosing a branchial cleft cyst is by using ultrasound imaging. During this procedure, the doctor will hold a small device called a transducer against your neck. This device uses sound waves to make an image of the area under your skin. These images can distinguish between a fluid-filled branchioma or a solid tumor.

How Are Branchiomas Treated?

Almost always, branchiomas are surgically removed. You will be given anesthesia for the procedure. You will also be asked to fast for at least eight hours before the operation begins. The surgery lasts from one to two hours. When it is over, the opening created to remove the cyst will be stitched closed.

After the surgery, you should:

  • follow up with your doctor
  • use pain medication for pain relief
  • have someone else drive you home from the surgery

If you have any of the following symptoms after the surgery, report them to your doctor:

  • bleeding from the site of the incision
  • pain that doesn’t go away with medication
  • clear, sticky, or colored fluid seeping from the incision
  • changes in your voice
  • fever

If the cyst or surgical site becomes infected, you may be treated with antibiotics. Surgery may also be used to drain the infection.

Future Health Outlook

Outlook is good if the branchioma is removed. The scar left by the surgery will fade with time.

Without removal, the branchioma could become infected. This infection could spread to other areas of the body surrounding the cyst. The best way to reduce the likelihood of infection is to have the branchioma removed.

A large branchioma may also make it difficult for you to turn your head fully to the side.

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