Mediastinal tumors are tumors that develop in the mediastinum — the area of the chest that separates the lungs and contains the heart, aorta, esophagus, thymus and trachea. Tumors of the mediastinum may be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).
Mediastinal tumors can form and grow in the thymic, nerve, lymphatic or soft tissue. They are seen in the front (anterior), middle or back (posterior) of the mediastinum. In adults, the tumor is typically located in the front and is a malignant thymoma or lymphoma. In children, the tumor is usually located in the back, where it forms in the nerves and is typically benign.
Experienced Cancer Team
At the University of Chicago Medicine, patients with a mediastinal tumor are diagnosed and treated by one of the most experienced cancer teams in the nation. Our oncologists and thoracic surgeons are members of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Care Center, a nationally recognized center at the forefront of cancer research and treatment and one of two NCI-designated Comprehensive Care Centers in Illinois. Our board-certified thoracic surgeons focus exclusively on surgery of the lungs and the chest cavity and are experts in minimally invasive surgery including robotic and video-assisted techniques.
Many patients with mediastinal tumors have no symptoms. Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms as a result of the tumor pressing on surrounding organs and structures:
- Chest pain
- Coughing or wheezing
- Fever and/or chills
- Neck swelling
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Unintended weight loss
Most mediastinal tumors are discovered when a patient has a chest X-ray performed after experiencing these symptoms or for another unrelated condition. Follow-up tests may include:
- CT chest scan
- CT-guided needle biopsy
- Mediastinoscopy with biopsy — a minimally invasive technique that involves a lighted tube placed through a small incision in the neck. A small sample of tissue is taken for diagnostic purposes.
The oncologists and thoracic surgeons at UChicago Medicine are at the forefront of care for tumors of the lung and chest. This team collaborates to plan the best and least invasive treatment plan for each patient. Depending on the type, stage and location of the tumor, surgery or minimally invasive procedures are used in combination with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy, Radiation & Targeted Therapies
Chemotherapy is usually given before or after surgery to reduce or destroy any remaining cancer cells. Radiation may be used before or after surgery in combination with the chemotherapy. In addition to conventional chemotherapy and radiation, we also offer clinical trials and/or targeted therapies for these tumors. Our comprehensive approach “individualizes” the therapy to the patient’s tumor.
When surgery is recommended, our thoracic surgeons use a minimally invasive approach whenever possible. These procedures include video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) and robotic-assisted surgery. Patients experience reduced pain, less scarring and a quicker recovery following a minimally invasive surgical procedure.