Mediastinal teratoma

Mediastinal teratomas are germ cell tumours located in the anterior mediastinum.

Mediastinal teratomas are the most common extra-gonadal germ cell tumours. They account for approximately 15% of anterior mediastinal masses in adults and approximately 25% of anterior mediastinal masses in children. They are by far the most common mediastinal germ cell tumour, accounting for 50-70% of such tumours 9.

The age of presentation is wide, but typical presentation in adults is in the third or fourth decade (20s and 30s). In children below 1 year of age, immature teratomas are common (40%) and may be detected antenatally 9.

No definite gender predilection for mature teratomas has been identified (at most there is a slight female predilection). Immature teratomas however, occur almost exclusively in males 9

The majority of patients are asymptomatic, with the mediastinal mass discovered incidentally when the thorax is imaged for another reason 7,9. Masses that become symptomatic can do so in a variety of ways:

Mediastinal teratomas are germ cell tumours arising from ectopic pluripotent stem cells that failed to migrate from yolk endoderm to the gonad. By definition they should contain elements from all three embryological layers: endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm. Frequently however elements from only two layers are evident 7 (see teratoma article).

A mediastinal dermoid cyst can be considered a variant of a mature teratoma, predominantly formed by squamous epithelium and skin appendages (ectoderm and mesoderm respectively) 9.

Teratomas may either be:

  • mature: well differentiated
  • immature: poorly differentiated
  • with malignant transformation
    • mature teratoma with non-germ cell malignancy arising from one of the components 2

Because they arise from primitive cells, they have variable neoplastic potential.  Generally, cystic lesions tend to be benign whereas solid lesions tend to be malignant however the final diagnosis is made histologically.

Mature teratomas and most immature teratomas are benign tumours, but still carry a risk of malignancy despite being indolent initially and require close clinical, serological, and radiological follow-up, or surgical excision 4-5,9.  There is also a low incidence of malignant transformation of somatic cells (i.e. non germ cell components) within these tumours, e.g. carcinoma, sarcoma, leukaemia 6.

Usually occurs within or near the thymus gland.

Mature teratomas have been associated with

Immature teratomas can be associated with 

The vast majority of mediastinal teratomas are located in the anterior mediastinum (80%), with most of the remainder involving multiple compartments (13-15%). Isolated posterior or middle mediastinal location is uncommon (2-8%) 9.

Mature teratomas, by their very nature, may contain a very wide range of tissues and thus have variable imaging features. In general they have the following features:

  • well-demarcated, displacing rather than invading adjacent structures
  • large: 3-25cm 9
  • usually cystic: 90% 9
    • may be uni- or multiloculated
  • septal/rim contrast enhancement
  • variable attenuation, consistent with different tissues
    • fat
    • water density cystic spaces
    • fat-fluid levels (specific)
    • homogeneous soft-tissue density
    • calcification: 26% 9
      • identifiable teeth or bone is seen in up to 8% of cases 9

When rupture has occurred, the density of each component is less likely to be homogeneous, but rather each part of the teratoma is heterogeneous (i.e. the fat component is heterogeneous, as is the cystic component etc.) 7.

Immature teratomas are usually solid.

Appearances on chest radiography are usually indistinguishable from many of the other causes of an anterior mediastinal mass. Calcification may be visible.

CT is the mainstay of diagnosis. The appearance will depend on the type of teratoma, and whether or not a cystic teratoma has ruptured. They are all however usually located in the anterior mediastinum.

Treatment depends on whether the teratoma is mature or immature. In the former, surgical resection is curative. In the later management depends on alpha-FP levels. If these are elevated then postoperative chemotherapy is usually employed 8

Prognosis of mature teratomas is excellent as they are benign tumours. Pure immature teratomas also usually have excellent prognosis especially in childhood. In up to 30% of cases however, immature teratomas have a malignant germ cell tumour component (most frequently yolk sac tumour), which result in frequent (25%) recurrence. Nonetheless with adjuvant chemotherapy a greater than 80% 3 year survival can be achieved in children. Prognosis in adults is less favourable 9.

On chest radiography, the differential is broad, and includes any cause of an anterior mediastinal mass: 

On CT the differential in usually narrowed to tumours, and depends on the morphology.

Germ cell tumours
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Article information

rID: 9192
System: Chest
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Mediastinal teratomas
  • Teratoma of mediastinum

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