Wald et al. Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery 2010, 5:19
Paraganglioma of the mediastinum: challenges in
diagnosis and surgical management
© 2010 Wald et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Ori Wald, Oz M Shapira, Aiman Murar and Uzi Izhar*
Mediastinal paraganglioms are rare, highly vascularized tumors arising from chromaffin tissue located in the para-aortic
ganglia. Tumors tend to invade bordering structures and may also form metastasis. Up to 50% of patients are
asymptomatic and diagnosis is incidental. Presenting symptoms are related to catecholamine hypersecretion or to a
mass effect. Complete surgical resection remains the standard of care due to malignant potential of the tumor and
poor response to chemotherapy or radiation. Strategic location of the tumor in proximity to great vessels, trachea, and
recurrent laryngeal nerve poses challenge for the surgeon. We report a case of a 59-year old asymptomatic female who
was incidentally diagnosed with a middle mediastinal mass on a positron-emission tomography (PET-CT) scan
performed as part of breast cancer surveillance. Complete resection of the tumor was achieved using cardiopulmonary
bypass. The patient recovered uneventfully and in a ten-month follow up there is no evidence of recurrence.
Ninety percent of chromaffin-cell-originating tumors are
located in the adrenal gland and termed pheochromocy-
tomas. The remaining ten percent are extra adrenal and
are termed paragangliomas. Paragangliomas appear in
the abdomen, pelvis, neck and mediastimun. Mediastinal
paraganglioma originate from para-aortic (middle medi-
atsinum) and para-vertebral (posterior mediatsinum)
sympathetic chain ganglia [1,2]. Similar to pheochromo-
cytoma, paraganglioma tumors may secrete cate-
cholamines, however in majority of cases they are non-
functional. Up to 50% of patients are asymptomatic and
the diagnosis is incidental . Clinical symptoms may be
related to catecholamine hypersecretion (hypertention/
hyperhydrosis) or to a mass effect resulting in complains
of hoarseness, dysphagia, shortness of breath and chest
A 54-year-old woman was referred for resection of an
asymptomatic middle mediastinal mass. Her past medical
history was remarkable for right breast carcinoma treated
with lumpectomy, axillary lymph node dissection, adju-
vant chemotherapy and irradiation sixteen years prior to
this admission. Six years later a right para-vertebral des-
moid tumor was completely resected. One year ago a sec-
ond right breast carcinoma was diagnosed and
completion mastectomy was performed. A positron
emission tomography - computerized tomography (PET-
CT scan) performed prior to her admission as part of her
oncological follow-up revealed a 5-cm middle mediasti-
nal mass with a standardized uptake value (SUV) of 20
(Fig 1A). With a differential diagnosis of an infectious
process a course of antibiotics was administered without
response. Repeat computerized tomography of the chest
(CT scan) demonstrated a 5-cm mass, located between
the aorta and the superior vena cava, compressing the
right pulmonary artery, and adherent to the anterior tra-
cheal wall (Fig 1B, 1C). Trans-bronchial biopsy was sug-
gestive of a typical carcinoid tumor and the patient was
referred to surgery.
Upon admission, the patient denied any symptoms
related neither to catecholamine hyper-secretion nor to
carcinoid syndrome. Physical examination and routine
laboratory results were unremarkable.
The operation was performed via a median sternotomy.
A soft, highly vascularized, 1.5 × 2.5 × 5.5 cm mass
located between the aorta, the superior vena cava and the
right atrium was identified. The tumor compressed the
right pulmonary artery, and was densely adherent to the
aorta and the anterior wall of the trachea with a very rich
network of small blood vessels (Fig 2). Frozen section
* Correspondence: IZHARU@hadassah.org.il
1 Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Hadassah University Hospital,
Jerusalem, 91120 P.O.B 12000, Israel
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Wald et al. Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery 2010, 5:19
Page 2 of 3
confirmed the diagnosis of a neuroendocrine tumor with
a low mitotic index. Because of these findings we elected
to remove the tumor using cardiopulmonary bypass to
allow complete and safe resection. We performed a right
femoral artery and the right atrium cannulaion, allowing
manipulation and possible excision of the ascending
aorta. The mass was completely resected. Postoperative
course was remarkable for a transient left vocal cord
paralysis. Final pathological examination demonstrated
the characteristics architecture of paraganglioma. The
tumor cells stained positive for synaptophysin chromogr-
anin and sustentacular cells stained positive to S-100.
Proliferation index was 5%. Cytology result of pericardial
effusion did not show malignant cells.
The patient has been followed-up since surgery. Cur-
rently she is asymptomatic. Both chest MRI and a whole
body FDG PET-CT scan, performed 10 months postop-
erative, did not show evidence of recurrence.
The diagnosis of a paraganglioma is based on clinical
symptoms, imaging tests and urinary essays of cate-
cholamine metabolites. Patients with inactive tumors
may present with large tumors that compress or invade
neighboring structures [1,4].
Paragangliomas have typical imaging characteristics on
CT and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Parag-
nagliomas are usually located in the bifurcation of great
vessels and show intense and homogeneous enhancement
except for necrotic areas that enhanced poorly. MRI
images show intermediate signal intensity on T1-
weighted images and high signal intensity on T2-
weighted images . 123I-MIBG (123I-metaiodobenzyl-
guanidine) scintigraphy and PET-CT scan with 18-FDG
(18-fluorodeoxyglucose) are used for localization and
staging of these tumors when appropriate. CT-guided
needle biopsy is not mandatory and, in fact, can be haz-
ardous due to the proximity of the tumor to the great ves-
sels and its intense vascularity. Our patient's history
suggested a differential diagnosis for the current mass of
either tumor recurrence or a third primary tumor. There-
fore preoperative tissue diagnosis was indicated. Needle-
biopsy-based tissue diagnosis of paraganglioma is diffi-
cult and complete pathological examination including
tumor morphology and structure and specific stains are
necessary to achieve accurate diagnosis.
Figure 1 A - PET CT scan image showing a middle mediastinal mass of 5 cm in diameter with an SUV of 20. B, C - Axial and coronal CT scan
images showing the tumor (T) adjacent to the aorta (Ao) and pulmonary artery (PA). The compressed superior vena cava is seen in coronal view (SVC).
Wald et al. Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery 2010, 5:19 Download full-text
Page 3 of 3
Complete resection is the standard of care of paragan-
glioma, affording the patient with the best chance of cure
since these tumors are relatively resistant to chemother-
apy and irradiation . The highly vascular nature of
these tumors and strategic anatomical locations make
complete resection demanding, and often mandates the
use of median sternotomy and cardiopulmonary bypass
[6,7]. In most cases these tumors can be removed in a sin-
gle-stage operation. A recent report described a two-
stage approach for resection of a paraganglioma invading
the pulmonary artery and ascending aorta .
The two major concerns involving resection of medi-
astinal paragngliomas include intraoperative bleeding
and catecholamine crises in patients with metabolically
active tumors. The highly vascular nature of the tumor,
the proximity and invasion to the great arteries and the
systemic anticoagulation necessary for cardiopulmonary
bypass - all contribute to a high risk of bleeding. . Hor-
monal-related crises are uncommon but are associated
with significant morbidity and mortality [1,10]. Meticu-
lous surgical technique and tight preoperative blood
pressure control are the key steps in prevention and man-
agement of these complication .
Prognosis after complete resection is favorable. Lamy et
al reported a follow up of 79 patients with middle medi-
astinal paragangliomas over a period of 180 months.
Among these patients overall survival was 62.0%, mean
survival time was 98.2 +/- 11.7 months (mean +/- stan-
dard error). For patient undergoing complete resection
survival was 84.6%, mean survival time was 125.7 +/- 18.7
months (mean +/- standard error). For patient undergo-
ing incomplete resection survival was 50.0% mean sur-
vival time was 71.5 +/- 13.8 months (mean +/- standard
error) . In a literature review of extraadrenal chromaf-
fin cells tumors Erickson et al has reported a surgical cure
rate of 69% .
In summary, paragnagliomas should be included in the
differential diagnosis of a middle mediastinal mass. Com-
plete surgical resection remains the standard of care and
is associated with excellent survival. Life-long surveil-
lance for local recurrence and metastatic spread is man-
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
OW reviewed the literature and wrote the manuscript, UI and OMS operated
on the patient and edited the manuscript. IM took part in operation, and pre-
pared the figures. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Hadassah University Hospital,
Jerusalem, 91120 P.O.B 12000, Israel
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Cite this article as: Wald et al., Paraganglioma of the mediastinum: chal-
lenges in diagnosis and surgical management Journal of Cardiothoracic Sur-
gery 2010, 5:19
Received: 21 November 2009 Accepted: 31 March 2010
Published: 31 March 2010
This article is available from: http://www.cardiothoracicsurgery.org/content/5/1/19 © 2010 Wald et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery 2010, 5:19
Figure 2 A - Intraoperative view: the tumor (T) is seen between
the aorta (Ao) and superior vena cava (S). Right atrium (RA) Right
ventricle (RV). B - resected tumor is shown.