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Mediastinal tumor

Thymoma - mediastinal; Lymphoma - mediastinal

Mediastinal tumors are growths that form in the mediastinum. This is an area in the middle of the chest that separates the lungs.

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Causes

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 common location for tumors in the mediastinum depends on the age of the person. In children, tumors are more common in the posterior mediastinum. These tumors often begin in the nerves and are noncancerous (benign).

Most mediastinal tumors in adults occur in the anterior mediastinum. They are usually cancerous (malignant) lymphomas, germ cell tumors, or thymomas. These tumors are most common in middle aged and older adults.

Symptoms

Almost one 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:

Exams and Tests

A medical history and physical examination may show:

Further tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment for mediastinal tumors depends on the type of tumor and symptoms:

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome depends on the type of tumor. Different tumors respond differently to chemotherapy and radiation.

Possible Complications

Complications of mediastinal tumors include:

Radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy can all have serious complications.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if you notice symptoms of a mediastinal tumor.

References

Cheng GS, Varghese TK, Park DR. Mediastinal tumors and cysts. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 83.

McCool FD. Diseases of the diaphragm, chest wall, pleura, and mediastinum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 92.

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Review Date: 5/27/2020  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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