The mediastinum is the central portion of the chest between the lungs. Any growth found in this cavity is referred to as a mediastinal mass. These growths can be malignant (cancerous) or benign.
When the mass is small, there may be no noticeable symptoms. Mediastinal tumors are typically found on a chest X-ray taken for other reasons. However, symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Persistent cough
- Difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
When a patient presents with symptoms that may suggest mediastinal tumors, your doctor will use several diagnostic methods to make an accurate diagnosis.
- Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history and will perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic tests may include:
- Your doctor may want to do further tests. These tests may include:
- Needle-guided biopsy, using CT scan. Your doctor will collect cells or fluid from the mass in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Using the CT as a guide, your doctor can get a very accurate biopsy using cells from the mass.
- Mediastinoscopy. Your doctor will view the inside of the chest by making an incision at the top of the breastbone, and inserting a thin, lighted tube to see inside the chest. Any abnormalities or possibly affected lymph nodes will be removed for further examination in the lab.
- Mediastinotomy. Your doctor wants to take small piece of tissue, called a biopsy, from the mass. A small incision is made into the side of the breastbone and a biopsy is taken of the suspicious mass. This is usually done under general anesthesia on an outpatient procedure.
Diagnosis of Mediastinal Tumors
After you have undergone any of these tests, your doctor may inform you that you have a mediastinal tumor. These can be benign or malignant.
Most benign mediastinal tumors require surgical excision because they are causing symptoms or to prevent the complications of further growth.