What Are Mediastinal Tumors?

Mediastinal tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) growths in a critical area of the chest. The mediastinum is the space behind the breastbone and chest wall and in front of the spine, between the two lungs. This region contains the heart, aorta, esophagus, thymus and trachea, as well as many lymph nodes.

The mediastinum is often the site of various types of tumors, including:

  • Thymoma, the most common primary anterior (frontal) mediastinal tumor seen in adults
  • Lymphoma, the second most common primary anterior mediastinal tumor in adults

All mediastinal tumors—benign and malignant alike—can be life threatening because in that critical location, a tumor can negatively impact so many vital organs. For example, tumors in the posterior region can compress the spinal cord. Tumors in the anterior region can interfere with the heart or aorta.

While they are generally rare, mediastinal tumors can develop in any tissue contained in the mediastinum. They can develop at any age, but are most often diagnosed in patients 30 to 50 years of age.