Risks And Complications Associated With Teratoma Surgery

  • Adeline Rankin Postgraduate certificate in clinical education, Clinical education, University of East Anglia, UK


Teratomas are intriguing and complex tumours that can develop in various parts of the body. They belong to a group of tumors known as germ cell tumors which originate from cells that would typically develop into eggs or sperm. Teratomas are unique in their ability to contain a diverse array of tissues, often resembling a mixture of different cell types and structures. While surgery remains a primary treatment option for teratomas, it is crucial to comprehend the potential risks and complications that can arise from these procedures. This understanding is pivotal for both medical practitioners and patients, as it informs decision-making and postoperative care.

Definition of teratomas

Teratomas are characterized by their heterogeneity, often containing elements from all three embryonic germ layers: ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. These tumours can develop in various locations within the body, including the ovaries, testes, sacrococcygeal region (tailbone), mediastinum (chest), and even the brain. The diverse cellular composition of teratomas contributes to their complex nature and poses challenges for treatment. For most patients, complete removal of the teratoma leads to a positive prognosis. Benign teratomas typically have a high cure rate. Malignant teratomas might require additional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. The prognosis also considers any complications arising from surgery and the patient's overall health.

Overview of teratoma surgery

Surgery is a common approach to managing teratomas, aiming to remove the tumour and potentially prevent its recurrence. The surgical procedure can vary depending on factors such as the tumour's location, size, and involvement with surrounding structures. For instance, ovarian teratomas may require oophorectomy (removal of the ovary), while mediastinal teratomas might necessitate thoracic surgery. The complexity of teratomas demands precise surgical planning and execution to ensure complete removal while minimizing damage to adjacent tissues.1

Importance of understanding risks and complications

In the realm of medical practice, informed decision-making is of paramount importance. Both patients and medical practitioners must be aware of the potential risks and complications associated with teratoma surgery. This knowledge enables patients to provide informed consent, actively participate in their treatment journey, and prepare themselves for the potential challenges ahead. Medical professionals can utilize this understanding to assess the appropriateness of surgery, select the optimal surgical approach, and provide comprehensive postoperative care.

Risks and complications


Surgical procedures always carry a risk of infection. In the case of teratoma surgery, infection can occur at the surgical site or even in deeper tissues, leading to complications such as abscess formation.

Surgical Site Infection (SSI): One of the most well-known types of postoperative infections is the surgical site infection (SSI), which occurs in the area where the surgery was performed. In the case of teratoma surgery, let's consider a scenario involving the removal of an ovarian teratoma. After the surgery, the incision site where the teratoma was removed becomes vulnerable to infection. Bacteria, both from the patient's skin and the surgical environment, can potentially enter the incision site and multiply, leading to an infection. Symptoms include redness, swelling, warmth, and increased pain around the incision site a few days after the surgery. This could be indicative of a superficial SSI. If left untreated, the infection can progress, potentially forming an abscess, a pocket of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue. This scenario highlights the importance of vigilant wound care, appropriate antibiotic administration, and early intervention to prevent complications like abscess formation.

Deep Tissue Infection: In some cases, an infection can extend beyond the superficial layers and affect deeper tissues. Let's consider a situation involving the removal of a mediastinal teratoma, a tumor located in the chest cavity. Due to the proximity of vital structures like the heart, major blood vessels, and the lungs, surgery in this area is particularly complex. If an infection occurs in the deeper tissues after such surgery, the consequences can be severe. For example, if a patient who underwent mediastinal teratoma removal develops a deep tissue infection, the infection might spread to nearby structures like the heart's lining or the lining of the lungs. This could result in conditions such as pericarditis (inflammation of the heart's lining) or pleuritis (inflammation of the lining of the lungs), which can be painful and compromise the functioning of these essential organs. Deeper infections may also require more aggressive treatment approaches, such as intravenous antibiotics and prolonged hospital stays.

Preventing and managing infections

To mitigate the risk of infections after teratoma surgery, healthcare providers follow stringent protocols. These include thorough sterilization of surgical instruments, proper hygiene practices, administration of prophylactic antibiotics before surgery, and careful monitoring of the surgical site postoperatively. In cases where infections do occur, early detection and appropriate treatment are crucial. This might involve prescribing antibiotics, draining abscesses if necessary, and closely monitoring the patient's condition. Timely intervention can prevent the infection from worsening and potentially spreading to critical areas.2


Surgery involves cutting blood vessels, and controlling bleeding is crucial. Excessive bleeding can result in haematomas, which might require additional interventions.

Controlling bleeding during surgery 

During teratoma surgery, medical professionals take measures to control bleeding, such as cauterizing (sealing with heat), suturing (stitching), and using haemostatic agents to prevent excessive blood loss. To better understand the significance of this aspect, consider a scenario involving the removal of a sacrococcygeal teratoma in an infant. In this case, a sacrococcygeal teratoma, a tumour located at the base of the spine, requires delicate surgery due to its proximity to important structures like the spinal cord and major blood vessels. As the tumour is removed, small blood vessels in the surgical area need to be sealed off to prevent bleeding. The surgical team carefully employs techniques to ensure that these vessels are properly controlled, avoiding complications such as hematoma formation.

Haematoma formation

Despite the best efforts to control bleeding during surgery, a haematoma can still occur. A haematoma is a localized collection of blood outside blood vessels, often resulting from blood leakage during surgery. In teratoma surgery, haematomas can develop at the surgical site or in deeper tissue layers, potentially causing pain, swelling, and even compromising the healing process. To illustrate, let's consider a scenario involving the removal of a testicular teratoma. After the surgery, a patient might notice increasing discomfort, swelling, and discolouration or bruising around the scrotal area. These symptoms could indicate the formation of a postoperative haematoma. If left untreated, the pressure from the haematoma can hinder normal blood circulation and tissue healing, potentially necessitating additional interventions such as drainage procedures to remove the accumulated blood.

Additional interventions and complications

In cases where haematomas form and cause significant discomfort or compromise healing, medical professionals might need to intervene. This can involve procedures to drain the haematoma and alleviate pressure on surrounding tissues. In some instances, surgical revision might be necessary to address any ongoing bleeding or complications arising from haematoma formation. Moreover, haematomas can contribute to other issues. For instance, a haematoma near a surgical incision could delay wound healing, increase the risk of infection, or cause pain that impedes the patient's recovery progress. In scenarios involving larger haematomas, pressure on adjacent structures could potentially lead to nerve damage, impairing sensory or motor functions.3

Organ damage

Depending on the location of the teratoma, adjacent organs or structures could be accidentally damaged during surgery. For example, surgical removal of a mediastinal teratoma could damage vital structures like the heart or major blood vessels. Organ damage is a significant concern in teratoma surgery, emphasizing the need for meticulous planning, precise surgical techniques, and well-coordinated teamwork. The examples provided underscore the complexity of balancing the removal of the teratoma with the preservation of nearby structures. By leveraging advanced imaging technologies and harnessing surgical expertise, medical professionals strive to achieve successful outcomes in teratoma surgery while safeguarding patients from unintended damage to vital organs.


Incomplete removal of the teratoma can lead to its recurrence. Due to the tumour's heterogeneous nature, microscopic remnants may be left behind even after surgery. In cases where the teratoma was malignant or had the potential for recurrence, long-term monitoring is essential. Regular check-ups over several years help ensure that any signs of recurrence are detected promptly and managed effectively. For a mediastinal teratoma located within the chest cavity, due to the intricate nature of the chest anatomy and the potential for microscopic fragments, there's a risk that microscopic teratoma cells could be left behind in the surrounding tissues. Months later, the patient experiences symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest discomfort. Imaging reveals the presence of small teratoma growth in the mediastinum. This recurrence can be attributed to the microscopic remnants that evaded detection during the initial surgery. This recurrence serves as a reminder of the tumour's complexity and the importance of meticulous removal.

Nerve injury

Nerves in the vicinity of the teratoma can be inadvertently damaged during surgery, potentially causing sensory or motor deficits. For instance, in the case of a sacrococcygeal teratoma removal, nerves in the pelvic region might be affected. The surgical procedure's complexity and proximity to nerves increase the risk. A damaged nerve can lead to sensory loss, muscle weakness, or even paralysis in the affected area. Imagine a patient undergoing surgery for a sacrococcygeal teratoma, experiencing numbness and difficulty walking postoperatively due to nerve injury. Preventing nerve damage demands precise surgical techniques and a thorough understanding of anatomical structures to safeguard nerve function.

Adhesion formation

Surgical procedures can result in the formation of scar tissue (adhesions) that might cause organs to stick together, leading to pain and dysfunction. For instance, if a patient undergoes ovarian teratoma removal, adhesions might form between the ovaries and surrounding tissues. As these adhesions tighten over time, they can cause pain and restrict organ movement. Imagine a patient experiencing chronic pelvic pain due to adhesions between organs after ovarian teratoma surgery. Mitigating adhesion formation involves careful surgical techniques and postoperative measures to minimize tissue trauma and promote proper healing, reducing the risk of pain and dysfunction caused by adhesions.4

Anesthesia complications

Anaesthesia is an essential aspect of surgery, but it also comes with its own set of risks, including allergic reactions, breathing difficulties, and adverse reactions to medications.

Delayed recovery

The complexity of teratoma surgery can contribute to longer recovery times, potentially requiring extended hospital stays and rehabilitation.

Cosmetic and functional concerns

Depending on the tumour's location, surgery may impact both the physical appearance and the functional abilities of the patient.

Psychological Impact

Facing the diagnosis of a teratoma and undergoing surgery can have psychological implications, causing anxiety, stress, or depression.3


Teratoma surgery presents a complex interplay of factors that can lead to various risks and complications. Understanding these potential challenges is essential for both patients and medical practitioners to make informed decisions, provide proper preoperative counselling, optimize surgical techniques, and deliver comprehensive postoperative care. The evolving landscape of medical research and advancements continues to contribute to refining surgical approaches and minimizing risks, ultimately improving the overall outcomes and quality of life for individuals facing teratoma surgery.


  1. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Nov 24]. Teratoma: when germ cells go rogue. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22074-teratoma
  2. Surgical site infections [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/surgical-site-infections
  3. Manjuladevi M, Vasudeva Upadhyaya K. Perioperative blood management. Indian J Anaesth [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 Nov 24];58(5):573–80. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4260303/
  4. Fatehi Hassanabad A, Zarzycki AN, Jeon K, Dundas JA, Vasanthan V, Deniset JF, et al. Prevention of post-operative adhesions: a comprehensive review of present and emerging strategies. Biomolecules [Internet]. 2021 Jul 14 [cited 2023 Nov 24];11(7):1027. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2218-273X/11/7/1027
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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