Mediastinal yolk sac tumor

Last revised by Dr Yuranga Weerakkody on 13 Jun 2022

Mediastinal yolk sac tumors or yolk sac tumors of the mediastinum are malignant non-seminomatous germ cell tumors primarily growing in the mediastinum.

The term ‘endodermal sinus tumor’ is not recommended.

Mediastinal yolk sac tumors are rare mediastinal tumors. In adults, they are almost only found in men with a peak incidence between 20 and 30 years of age and account for up to one-tenth of mediastinal germ cell tumors being less common than mediastinal seminomas, mixed germ cell tumors or mediastinal teratomas 1,2. In children, they are the most common malignant germ cell tumors almost ten times more common than in adults and mostly found in baby girls with a peak incidence at one year of age. They are rare after the age of six years 1.

Klinefelter syndrome is a considered risk factor 1,3.

The final diagnosis is based on histology and immunohistochemistry 1.

Diagnostic criteria according to the WHO classification of thoracic tumors (2021 - blue book) 1:

  • various histological patterns representing the yolk sac, allantois and extraembryonic mesenchyme
  • usually multiple different growth patterns within a single tumor

Further desirable criteria are the following 1:

A large heterogeneous mediastinal mass with lung metastases on imaging in young men or children in the setting of rapid symptom onset and elevated serum AFP might indicate a non-seminomatous germ cell tumor.

Clinical signs and symptoms are frequently chest-related and include dyspnea, chest pain and cough, systemic symptoms include weight loss, fever and hemoptysis 1-3. They might also present with superior vena cava syndrome or might be found incidentally on imaging studies 1. AFP is most commonly elevated 1. Β-hCG might be elevated 2.

Mediastinal yolk sac tumors might cause the following complications 1,2:

Mediastinal yolk sac tumors are non-seminomatous malignant germ cell tumors usually featuring different yolk sac specific histological patterns within a single tumor 1.

Primary mediastinal yolk sac tumors are associated with genetic alterations different in patients with mediastinal yolk sac tumors before or after the age of eight years 1.

Mediastinal yolk sac tumors are usually located in the anterior or rarely in the posterior mediastinum 1.

Macroscopically, mediastinal yolk sac tumors have a pale white to grey color with a mucoid to gelatinous appearance. Areas of necrosis and hemorrhage might be seen after neoadjuvant therapy 1,3.

Microscopically mediastinal yolk sac tumors show different histological features and patterns 1,5:

  • microcystic/reticular: cystic spaces lined by cuboidal, flat or columnar epithelium
  • macrocytic
  • glandular-alveolar
  • endodermal sinus/pseudopapillary: Schiller-Duval bodies resembling primitive glomeruli
  • myxomatous
  • hepatoid
  • enteric
  • polyvesicular-vitelline
  • solid
  • spindle

Immunohistochemistry stains of mediastinal yolk sac tumors are usually positive for cytokeratins such as AE1 and/or AE3, GPC3 and SALL4 but usually do not express OCT4, SOX2 and D2-40 1. They variably express AFP, PLAP and KIT/CD117.

Imaging features of mediastinal yolk sac tumors are unspecific mediastinal masses that might displace or infiltrate the adjacent structures or vessels 3-5.

On thoracic CT mediastinal yolk sac have been described as lobulated, poorly marginated and heterogeneous masses 2.

PET-CT displays high uptake of FDG and might be used to monitor therapy.

The radiological report should include a description of the following:

  • location and extent of the tumor
  • relation to the heart and great vessels
  • associated complications (e.g. superior vena cava obstruction)
  • nodal disease
  • distant metastases

Management consists of chemotherapy with subsequent residual tumor mass excision 2,5

In adults and adolescents older than 15 years non-seminomatous germ cell tumors have a poor prognosis with a 5-year overall survival rate of approximately 50% 1. Absence of distant metastasis, complete tumor necrosis after chemotherapy, low preoperative β-hCG, complete tumor resection and postoperative normalization of tumor markers are beneficial prognostic factors 1. Children younger than 15 years with non-seminomatous germ cell tumors have a better prognosis with overall survival rates of up to 87%. Completeness of excision is the most important prognostic factor there and primary brain metastases in children carry a poor prognosis 1.

Condition or tumors that might mimic the appearance of mediastinal yolk sac tumors include 1:

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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