Skip to Content

Mediastinal Mass

The mediastinum is the middle part of the chest and contains the windpipe (trachea), esophagus, heart and its major vessels, and esophagus. It is bordered by the lungs on either side, the breast bone (sternum) in front and the spine in the back. A variety of tumors—benign and cancerous—can develop anywhere in the mediastinum. While they can appear at any age, these rare tumors most commonly are seen in individuals between the ages of 30 to 50.

  • Bronchogenic cysts are congenital (exist at birth) and almost always benign. Often filled with fluid or mucous, these cysts develop in the middle mediastinum and typically go undetected. Large and growing bronchogenic cysts, though, can begin to put pressure on the trachea or esophagus and cause symptoms, including:  fever from infection (a burst cyst), breathing problems and trouble swallowing.

  • Esophageal duplication cysts are inherited growths, frequently diagnosed in young children. Growing near or on the esophagus, these lesions usually cause no symptoms but when they do, signs may include: trouble swallowing, coughing and difficulty breathing. In rare cases, the cyst may become cancerous.

  • Neurogenic cysts are the most prevalent type of mediastinal tumor found at the back of the mediastinum, near the spine. While usually benign in adults, neurogenic cysts that develop in individuals under 20 or over 40 are at high risk of becoming malignant. Typically asymptomatic, a growing neurogenic cyst may cause chest pain, wheezing and, if affecting the spinal cord, trouble walking.

Other Mediastinal Tumors

  • Germ Cell Tumors form in the front part of the mediastinum and are made of reproductive cells. Close to 70 percent of these abnormal growths are benign and equally affect men and women. Malignant germ cell tumors, though, are mostly likely to appear in men, between the ages of 20 and 40. The size of the tumor will typically dictate if there are any symptoms such as chest pain, breathing problems, cough and fever.

Diagnosing Mediastinal Mass

Asymptomatic mediastinal tumors are often noticed by chance, such as through diagnostic imaging for some other health condition. However, for lesions causing symptoms, your physician may recommend:

Surgical Treatment Options for Mediastinal Mass

The usual treatment for most mediastinal masses is surgical removal. At NorthShore, we offer a number of advanced minimally invasive surgical treatment options that offer less pain, faster recovery and smaller incisions. These include:

  • Video assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)
  • Robotic surgery using the daVinci® system 

For More Information

To schedule an appointment with one of our thoracic surgeons, please call 847.570.2868.