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A gossypiboma (textilomaor cottonoid) are terms used to describe a foreign object, such as a mass of cotton matrix or a sponge, that is left behind in a body cavity during an operation. It is an uncommon surgical complication. 

The manifestations and complications of gossypibomas so are variable that diagnosis maye be difficult and patient morbidity is significant. 

Frequent sites of gossypiboma formation include:

  • intrathoracic
    • pleural cavity
    • pericardial cavities
  • abdominal cavity

Theatre 'swab counts' at the end of a procedure before 'closing up' are typically undertaken to prevent retained foreign bodies.


Gossypibomas cause two types of responses in the body: exudative and aseptic fibrous. The latter can have adhesions, encapsulation, and eventually, granuloma formation. However, the former usually occurs early in the postoperative period and may involve secondary bacterial contamination, which results in various fistulas. 

Rarely, a foreign body may completely migrate into the ileum without any apparent opening in the intestinal wall. If it cannot pass the ileocecal valve and cause complete intestinal obstruction at this level. However, if it passes through this valve, it is then easily discharged through the anus.

An infrequently reported possible complication of  a retained surgical sponge is the development of an angiosarcoma 4.

Radiographic features


Gossypibomas are most frequently discovered in the abdomen. Characteristic CT features of abdominal gossypibomas include:

  • spongiform appearance with gas bubbles
  • low-density mass with a thin enhancing capsule
  • calcifications deposited along the network architecture of a surgical sponge

A sponge left within the pleural space shows no gas lucencies due to resorption of the air by the pleura. 


Signal characteristics vary depending on content. Commonly reported features include 1:

  • T1 - typically low signal
  • T2 - low signal with whorled stripes in the central portion
  • T1 C+ (Gd) - enhancement and in some cases a serrated border to the inner wall

Differential diagnosis

Such foreign bodies can often mimic tumors or abscesses clinically or radiologically. 


The term gossypiboma is derived from the Latin word "gossypium", which means cotton, and the Swahili word "boma", which means place of concealment and refers to retained sponge in the surgical bed.

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