For many years it has been recognized that seemingly benign neck cysts may contain carcinoma. The true incidence is unknown. This paper investigated nine out of 270 patients presenting with a neck mass — which proved to contain a squamous carcinoma. Records (from a 30-year period) of over 3400 patients with squamous carcinoma of the head and neck, were examined. The histology slides were reviewed, the number of cystic lesions was noted and also the clinical outcome. Out of the 270 patients nine presented with a cystic lesion and these were studied. Six cystic lesions were originally diagnosed as branchial cysts although the youngest age was 39 years. All patients underwent a simple excision.
In six cases the tonsil was the primary site, in one the primary was in the base of tongue and in two the primary remained occult. One-third of the patients had died of their disease by the time this report was written and the maximum follow-up time for the remaining patients was 18 months. Therefore 16 per cent of branchial cysts in this series represented metastases from squamous cell carcinoma.
At the Royal Liverpool University Hospital only 25 patients had branchial cysts excised between 1988 and 1993: out of these only four contained squamous carcinoma.
In patients over 40 years of age panendoscopy and ipsilateral tonsillectomy is mandatory prior to cyst excision.