What are Mediastinal Tumors?

What are Mediastinal Tumors?

Mediastinal tumors are rare growths that form in the mediastinum, an area in the chest between the lungs, behind the sternum, and in front of the spinal column. The mediastinum space contains the heart, large blood vessels, windpipe (trachea), thymus gland, esophagus, and connective tissues. The mediastinum has three sections: the anterior (front), the middle, and the posterior (back).

Mediastinal tumors in adults are typically found in the anterior mediastinum and can be cancerous. These tumors are more common in middle-aged and older adults. Mediastinal tumors in the posterior mediastinum tend to begin in the nerves and are often benign (noncancerous).

Types of Mediastinal Tumor Cancers


The following types of tumors may be found in the anterior mediastinum:

  • Germ cell tumors - Growth of cells that typically start in the testicles or the ovaries (together also called gonads) but may occur in other areas of the body. Of these, the mediastinum is the most common location of germ cell tumors. Germ cell tumors may be cancerous or benign.
  • Lymphomas - Cancerous tumors that begin in the lymph system. The two main types are Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • Thymoma and thymic carcinoma - Diseases in which cancerous cells form on the outside surface of the thymus. The thymus is a small organ in the upper chest under the breastbone and is part of the lymph system. Symptoms of thymoma and thymic carcinoma include coughing and chest pain.

Symptoms & Signs of Mediastinal Tumors


People who have mediastinal tumors often experience no symptoms. Most growths are discovered on chest X-rays that are done for another reason. Symptoms of mediastinal tumors often result from the pressure of the tumor on a close organ and may include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss

Mediastinal Tumor Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & Risk Factors

The exact cause of mediastinal tumors is unknown, but they may be linked to certain risk factors, including:

  • Age - Lymphoma can develop at any age, but most types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are more common in older people. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is also common in younger people between age 15 and 40. Most thymoma patients are between 40 and 60 years of age and it is rare in young adults and children.
  • Family history – If you have a family history of lymphomas or thymomas, you may be at a higher risk of developing them
  • Gender – In general, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common in men, while Hodgkin’s lymphoma incidence is similar in young men and women
  • Immune system diseases – Inherited immune system disorders and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as immunodeficiencies like HIV
  • Infections - Moraxella catarrhalis can cause chest infections and has been linked to an uncommon form of Hodgkin lymphoma. However, more research is needed to establish a link between the two conditions.



Mediastinal tumors cannot be prevented. Early detection of a tumor allows for early treatment, which may lead to better outcomes. If you have shortness of breath, coughing, or other symptoms lasting longer than usual, contact your doctor.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Mediastinal Tumor Care

At NewYork-Presbyterian, we offer cutting-edge, less invasive endoscopic options for diagnosing and treating mediastinal tumors, including thymoma and thymic carcinoma. Whether you have a mediastinal cyst, a mediastinal tumor, or lung cancer, our experts will work together to bring you comprehensive care that meets your needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.