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Embryogenesis is an intricate process that can easily be disrupted by means of teratogenic agents. Some of these agents target the embryonic period's "window of susceptibility," three to eight weeks after a pregnant woman's last menstruation, when the highest degree of sensitivity to embryonic cell differentiation and organ formation occurs. The embryonic period or critical period is when most organ systems form, whereas the fetal period, week eight to birth, involves the growth and modeling of the organ systems.
Teratomas are embryonal tumors that normally arise from germ cells and are typically benign. They are defined as being composed either of tissues that are foreign to the area in which they form, or of tissues that derive from all three of the germ layers. Malignant teratomas are known as teratocarcinomas; these cancerous growths have played a pivotal role in the discovery of stem cells. "Teratoma" is Greek for "monstrous tumor"; these tumors were so named because they sometimes contain hair, teeth, bone, neurons, and even eyes.