The interpretation of postchemotherapy resections of anterior mediastinal germ cell tumors plays a critical role in determining future patient management and prognosis. Treatment-related changes in the thymus may mimic residual teratoma or microcystic-pattern yolk sac tumor. There is limited extant information concerning therapy-related pseudoneoplastic thymic alterations.


To provide diagnostic assistance to distinguish nonneoplastic thymic abnormalities secondary to chemotherapy from residual germ cell tumor.


We retrospectively reviewed 91 resections of primary anterior mediastinal germ cell tumors with recognizable thymic gland following cisplatin-based chemotherapy.


The cohort included 90 men and 1 woman (median age, 29 years). A spectrum of thymic epithelial alterations occurred, including cystic change (macrocysts [n = 21] or microcysts [n = 20]); hyperplasia with reactive atypia (n = 8); ciliated, mucinous, or columnar cell metaplasia (n = 3); and mature squamous metaplasia (n = 2). These changes were similar to so-called acquired multilocular thymic cysts, were often contiguous with and adjacent to normal thymic epithelium, and lacked the neoplastic-type atypia seen in teratomatous elements in this setting. In 1 case, confluent microcysts closely mimicked the appearance of yolk sac tumor but lacked other distinctive features of that neoplasm and its characteristic immunoreactivity.


Recognition of therapy-induced thymic changes is important to avoid misinterpretation as residual teratoma or yolk sac tumor. Continuity with and proximity to benign thymic epithelium, absence of neoplastic-type atypia, and awareness of this phenomenon are important in avoiding this pitfall.

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Author notes

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.