Mediastinal tumors are rare growths that form in the mediastinum – the part of the chest that lies between the lungs, encased by the sternum and the spinal column. The mediastinum contains the heart, large blood vessels, trachea, esophagus, thymus gland, and connective tissues. The tumors can be cancerous or non-cancerous, and can develop in the anterior (front) mediastinum, the middle mediastinum, and the posterior (back) mediastinum.
In children, tumors are more common in the posterior mediastinum and are often benign. In adults, mediastinal tumors most often appear in the anterior mediastinum and are usually malignant thymomas (tumors that start in the epithelial cells of the thymus gland) or lymphomas (cancer of the lymphocyte cells in the immune system). Adult mediastinal tumors normally affect people between the ages of 30 and 50.
Nearly half of mediastinal tumors cause no symptoms and are found during an X-Ray for another reason. If symptoms do appear, they can include chest pain, fever or chills, coughing (sometimes bloody), hoarseness, night sweats, shortness of breath and wheezing, swollen lymph nodes, and unexplained weight loss. In addition, these tumors can compress the spinal cord and spread to the heart, pericardium, aorta and vena cava, causing further damage.
The treatment for mediastinal tumors depends on the type and location of the tumor but they are most often treated through surgical resection. Recently, minimally invasive surgery including VAT and robotic approaches have been utilized to treat these tumors.