Teratoma historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Masoud Bitarafan, M.D[[2]]


Historical Perspective

The earliest report of teratoma goes back to 600 to 900 BC from the Chaldean Royal Library of Nineveh where the general features of teratomas were listed on clay tablet. In the following centuries teratomas were further characterized to be embryoid in nature with the discovery of a growth that contained pigmented optic cups and a skull. However, in 1856 teratoma is fully defined as abnormal tumor with the three germ layers—mesoderm, ectoderm, and endoderm—which recapitulate tissue types derived from each layer.[1]

The recognition of teratomas stretches in time from fragmentary descriptions in ancient times to increasingly frequent gross anatomical observations in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Clinical observations of the biologic behavior of teratomas likewise expanded from isolated descriptions of patients with tumors in various locations to reports of series of cases with increasing knowledge of clinical signs and symptoms. The understanding of the genesis of these tumors, initially attributed to demons and various forms of sexual misbehavior, languished half-buried under the weight of 19th century speculations (Pauly, 1875) until experimental biologists working in the past 15–20 yr began to unravel some of the mysteries of germ cell development and cellular differentiation.[2]

The term “teratoma” derives from the Greek word “τέρατα,” which literally translates as “monsters.” A “teratoma” therefore is a “monster tumor” or “monster growth,” and it is apparent that the same root gives rise to “teratogenic,” which therefore translates to “monster forming.” In all probability “teratoma” was first applied to the circumstance of a malformed, monozygotic twin that was fused to an external body site of its genetically identical sib. This condition, today, is frequently termed “fetus in fetu.” Thus, the original “teratoma” referred to a congenital malformation, but it probably was relatively quickly adapted to what we would now regard as a true neoplasm rather than a malformation, namely the sacrococcygeal teratoma of infancy, because it, too, commonly appears as a “monstrous” protrusion from an external body site, although it is rarely fetiform.[3]


  1. "Embryonic stem (ES) cells and embryonal carcinoma (EC) cells: opposite sides of the same coin | Biochemical Society Transactions".
  2. "pdfs.semanticscholar.org" (PDF).

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