Combination Surgical Procedure for Fourth Branchial Anomalies: Operative Technique and Outcomes

Matthew Maksimoski, Sarah E. Maurrasse, Matthew Purkey, John Maddalozzo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: Branchial apparatus anomalies of the fourth cleft are the rarest subtype of anomaly and occasionally present with suppurative thyroiditis or thyroid abscess due to their relationship with the thyroid gland. Surgical approaches vary and some surgeons favor cauterization of associated pyriform sinus tracts alone versus complete surgical excision. Currently, the literature is scarce and there is limited data on surgical outcomes and procedural steps. Here we describe a combination surgical technique for fourth branchial anomalies including: (1) surgical excision of the cyst and any external pit, (2) hemithyroidectomy, and (3) direct laryngoscopy with cauterization of pyriform apex tract, if present. Methods: A retrospective review was performed on all patients who underwent surgical excision of fourth branchial apparatus lesions (including fistulae, cysts, and sinus tracts) at an urban pediatric university hospital from 2000 to 2019. Data regarding demographics, medical history, surgical methods, complications, and surgical cure rates were collected. Results: A total of 16 patients (9 female, 7 male) underwent a combination surgical procedure for fourth branchial apparatus lesions. Success rate after primary surgery was 94%. One patient had residual disease requiring re-operation. Two patients had post-operative complications: 1 transient vocal fold paresis and 1 seroma, both managed conservatively. A consensus surgical algorithm was created based on operative steps present in the majority of cases. Conclusion: A combination approach to fourth branchial apparatus lesions—including endoscopic cauterization, external excision, and hemithyroidectomy—is safe and provides a high rate of primary cure. Although less invasive options exist, remnants of the branchial lesion, especially in the thyroid, may remain and cause recurrent issues. Therefore, we advocate for complete surgical excision of this rare developmental anomaly, especially when obvious thyroid involvement exists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-744
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • branchial cleft cyst
  • cauterization
  • congenital anomalies
  • evidence-based medicine
  • pediatric otolaryngology
  • thyroid surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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