Types of Mediastinal Tumors
Mediastinal tumors are rare. They are usually diagnosed in patients age 30 to 50 years, but they can develop at any age.
The location and type of mediastinal tumor vary according the age of the patient.
In children, the tumors usually are non-cancerous (benign), usually start in the nerves (neurogenic), and usually are in the back of the mediastinum. In adults, the tumors generally are cancerous (malignant) and usually are in the front of the mediastinum.
When a mediastinal tumor is cancerous, it usually is linked to lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes or lymph cells), germ cell tumors (cancers of testicular or ovarian type cells), or thymoma (a tumor of a normal mediastinal gland).
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Tests that are most often used to evaluate mediastinal tumors are chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance images (MRI).
CT scan showing a large mediastinal mass
Blood tests may be helpful in determining the type of tumor. Tissue sampling may involve needle biopsies, mediastinoscopy procedures with biopsy, or complete resection (removal) of the lesion by minimally invasive approach or sternotomy. For more information on these tests, visit our common diagnostic tests page.
Left untreated, mediastinal tumors may grow larger and can cause spinal cord compression or spread to nearby structures, such as the heart. If surgery is required, the procedure will be performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Neurogenic tumors usually are treated with surgery
Lymphomas usually are treated with chemotherapy and may be followed by radiation
Germ Cell Tumors
Germ cell tumors usually are treated with chemotherapy
Thymomas or thymic cancers usually are treated with surgery (minimally invasive surgery, sternotomy, orthoracotomy) and may include radiation or chemotherapy
Minimally invasive procedures, such as thoracoscopy, may offer decreased postoperative pain, shorter hospital stay, and a reduced risk of infection.
Talk with your doctor about the option that may be right for you. You can print these sample questions to use as a basis for discussion with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Robbin G. Cohen, MD, with assistance from John Hallsten and Travis Schwartz
Previously reviewed by: Rishindra Reddy, MD, and Jules Lin, MD