An overview on the differential diagnostics of tumors of the anterior-superior mediastinum: the pathologist’s perspective

Mirella Marino, Stefano Ascani


The thymus is the main organ in the (anterior) (pre-vascular) mediastinum, playing a central role in the maintenance of both cellular and humoral immunity. The function of the thymus has been long underlooked due to its involution starting during young adulthood and unawareness regarding its immunological function. A variety of primary tumors and inflammatory/reactive/disreactive processes occur in the mediastinum and may involve the anterior-superior compartment and the thymus. Maldevelopment processes also take place in the pre-vascular compartment mediastinum. Although infective diseases do not currently represent the main processes in western countries, they may represent a diagnostic challenge in developing countries. The purpose of this review is to provide a short overview of the main thymic cellular components, their tumors, pseudotumors, in order to provide insights into their clinical setting and the features which assist pathologists in their differential diagnosis (DD). Specific differential diagnostic points are provided, both for “solid” tumors as well as for haematological malignancies, together with a morphological overview of cases of concern that occur in the anterior mediastinum. The main immunohistochemical characteristics of neoplastic/non-neoplastic pathology and updated specific references are also provided.