Thoracic Tumors


The majority of people associate the word tumor with cancer. While a person may very well have a tumor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have cancer. It is often the case for the tumor to be benign meaning cancer is not present. However, if a tumor is detected it is essential to identify it as benign or cancerous as soon as possible in the case that cancer is in fact present in order to treat is as effectively as possible.

Mediastinal Tumors

These rare tumors are defined as growths or masses that form in the mediastinum, or the middle of the chest area that is located between the sternum and the spinal column, and between the lungs. This area is home to many important organs including the heart, large blood vessels, the trachea, thymus gland, esophagus, and connective tissue. For this reason, mediastinal tumors can cause very serious complications if left untreated. This area is divided into three separate areas:

  • Anterior
  • Middle
  • Posterior
Image Courtesy of A.D.A.M.

Image Courtesy of A.D.A.M.


Benign tumors usually result in little to no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and fever in some cases.

With almost 50 percent of mediastinal tumors producing no symptoms, detection is usually left up to a chest X-ray. Symptoms that do occur are:

  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Cough or coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Shortness of breath

Causes & Risk Factors

Benign tumors result typically from infection such as tuberculosis or fungal infection. They may also result form noninfectious causes such as Rheumatoid arthritis or from a number of birth defects.

As mentioned, mediastinal tumors are rare. They can develop in people of any age; however, they are more common in patients aged 30-50. Smoking increases the chances of developing a mediastinal tumor.

In addition to tumors arising in the organs of the mediastinum, this area has many lymph glands which may become enlarged due to systemic tumors such as lymphoma. Other causes of enlarging lymph nodes of the mediastinum include infections and autoimmune disorders like sarcoidosis.


Typcally, the tests used to diagnose and evaluate a mediastinal tumor are:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI

A biopsy may be performed if the tumor is suspected as being cancerous. This is the only definitive method to determine whether or not cancer is present.


Often, benign tumors require no treatment. Your doctor will observe the tumor over a period of time to determine if it is growing. If the tumor begins to affect your health or becomes too large, it will likely require removal to prevent potential complications.

Treatment for mediastinal tumors depend on the type of tumor and its location as well as the patient’s age and overall health. If your tumor requires surgery, Riverview Cardiac Surgery will remove the tumor through the least invasive means possible. Depending on your conidition, you may be a candidate for a Video Assisted Thoracoscopy Surgery (VATS). Enlarged nodes in the mediastinum may be removed or biopsied under anesthesia using a scope (mediastinoscopy) inserted behind the sternum.

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