An otherwise healthy man developed a worrying cough that lasted for three weeks with no other symptoms. It turned out that the cough was triggered by a mass almost 17.2 centimeters long pressing against his right lung.
According to a description of the case, published October 30 in the Journal of Surgical Case Reports (opens in new tab), the 22-year-old man had no significant medical history or smoking history and tested negative for COVID-19 in the emergency department. A roentgen his chest showed an accumulation of fluid between the layers of tissue covering the right one lung and lined the chest cavity, and this fluid had flooded the small airways of the lower right lung, preventing them from filling with air.
The medical team then performed a computed tomography (CT) scan and discovered the large mass lurking in the patient’s right side of his chest. The mass was located in the mediastinum, the space between the lungs where the is located heartLymph nodes, nerves, and other structures in the chest, according to the online medical resource StatPearls (opens in new tab).
The team collected a sample of the mass and found that it had evolved from cells in the mass thymusa gland that sits just behind the breastbone and is responsible for producing mature immune cells.
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Doctors then performed surgery to remove the mass and further analyzed the tissue, which revealed the growth was not malignant or cancerous. However, all thymomas, which are tumors of the thymus gland, have the potential to become cancerous, so tumors are treated with this risk in mind Cedars Sinai (opens in new tab).
The patient recovered in the hospital for a week after the operation and at a follow-up visit a month after discharge he had had no symptoms such as shortness of breath or cough. He was then cleared to resume all of his normal activities, including weightlifting. He was also scheduled for a follow-up visit six months later to get a CT scan and undergo radiation therapy, which lowers the risk of the mass growing back.
According to StatPearls, thymomas are the most common type of tumors that grow in the part of the mediastinum that houses the thymus, lymph nodes, and fat in the breast. Overall, however, these types of tumors are relatively rare; less than 1% of all adult malignancies are thymomas.
Thymomas can cause a variety of respiratory symptoms, including a sometimes bloody cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, according to Cedars Sinai. Because of the pressure the growths can put on other organs, they can also cause difficulty swallowing; swelling of the face, neck, hands and upper chest; Headache; and dizziness. Early on, when the tumors begin to form, some patients have no symptoms at all.
“A diagnosis of a thymoma … may be unintentional when a patient is having a chest x-ray or CT scan of the chest for some other reason,” notes Cedars Sinai. “If this doesn’t happen, the patient can go to their doctor because they have symptoms and are diagnosed at that point,” as was the case in the young man’s recent case.