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Cancer. 1994 Oct 15;74(8):2251-60.

Malignant smooth muscle tumors presenting as mediastinal soft tissue masses. A clinicopathologic study of 10 cases.

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Department of Pulmonary and Mediastinal Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C. 20306-6000.



Smooth muscle tumors presenting as mediastinal soft tissue masses are extremely rare and often are mistaken for other neoplastic conditions.


Ten cases of patients with malignant smooth muscle tumors presenting as mediastinal soft tissue masses were studied and correlated with their clinical behavior. Tissues were examined histologically and with immunohistochemical stains in all cases, and by electron microscopy in two cases.


The patients' ages ranged from 26 to 71 years (mean, 56 years); three were women, and seven were men. Three cases were located in the anterior mediastinum and seven in the posterior mediastinum. The patients with anterosuperior mediastinal tumors all presented with signs and symptoms referable to their lesions; the patients with posterior mediastinal masses (with the exception of one) were all asymptomatic. Grossly, the lesions were well circumscribed and unencapsulated, ranging from 6 to 18 cm in greatest dimension and showed a homogeneous, rubbery cut surface with prominent cystic and myxoid areas. The tumors in all patients appeared to arise from the soft tissues within the mediastinum and were unrelated to adjacent structures. In three patients, the tumors compressed and displaced the esophagus without infiltrating its wall, and in one patient, the tumor was found in close proximity, although unattached, to a large vessel. Histologically, the lesions exhibited a spectrum of morphologic appearances that ranged from low grade leiomyosarcoma with mild-to-moderate nuclear atypia and low mitotic activity (< 3/10 high power fields [HPFs]), to high grade tumors with marked nuclear pleomorphism, extensive areas of necrosis, and high mitotic activity (> 10 mitoses/10 HPFs). One case was characterized by a striking epithelioid morphology with large, round cells arranged in small clusters; another was associated with an incidental microscopic focus of thymic seminoma in the adjacent thymus. Immunohistochemical stains in all cases showed positive labeling of the tumor cells with smooth muscle actin, desmin, and vimentin antibodies. Electron microscopy in two cases showed features of smooth muscle differentiation, i.e., spindle cells surrounded by basal lamina material, immature cell junctions, and abundant intracytoplasmic filaments with focal condensations. All patients were treated with surgical excision. On follow-up, three patients with Stage IIIb and IVa tumors died 2-7 years after surgery, and two patients with Stage Ib and IIb were alive and well 4 and 6 years after surgery, respectively.


Leiomyosarcomas may arise as primary tumors originating from mediastinal soft tissues in both anterior and posterior compartments. Because of their large size and frequent areas of cystic and myxoid degeneration, they may be confused histologically with neural or other neoplasms. As with their counterparts in other soft tissue locations, histologic grade and clinical stage are the most useful parameters for assessing prognosis.

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