Mediastinal tumors are growths that form in the mediastinum. This is an area in the middle of the chest that separates the lungs.
The mediastinum is the part of the chest that lies between the sternum and the spinal column, and between the lungs. This area contains the heart, large blood vessels, windpipe (trachea), thymus gland, esophagus, and connective tissues. The mediastinum is divided into three sections:
Mediastinal tumors are rare.
The most common location for tumors in the mediastinum depends on the age of the patient. In children, tumors are more common in the posterior mediastinum. These tumors often begin in the nerves and are non-cancerous (benign).
Most mediastinal tumors in adults occur in the anterior mediastinum and are usually cancerous (malignant) lymphomas, germ cell tumors, or thymomas. These tumors are most common in people ages 30 to 50.
Almost half of mediastinal tumors cause no symptoms and are found on a chest x-ray done for another reason. Symptoms that do occur are due to pressure on (compression of) local structures and may include:
A medical history and physical examination may show:
Further tests that may be done include:
Treatment for mediastinal tumors depends on the type of tumor and symptoms:
The outcome depends on the type of tumor. Different tumors respond differently to chemotherapy and radiation.
Complications of mediastinal tumors include:
Radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy can all have serious complications.
Call your health care provider if you notice symptoms of a mediastinal tumor.
Thymoma - mediastinal; Lymphoma - mediastinal
Park DR, Vallieres E. Tumors and cysts of the mediastinum. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 76.
Updated by: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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