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What is Thymoma? Treating Thymus Cancer

Updated on August 11, 2014

Thymoma is cancer of the thymus (a small gland that is situated underneath the breastbone). The thymus synthesizes lymphocytes that journey through the body and fight infection.

It is a rather rare cancer, and is invariably known due to its association with a disorder called Myasthenia Gravis. Approximately 15 % of the people who have Myasthenia Gravis tend to develop thymoma. Thymomas are surgically excised; and prognosis is moderate to poor.

Thymoma Causes, Causes of Thymoma Tumor

The exact causative factor for the development of a thymoma is yet unknown; but, the carcinoma has been linked to some systemic syndromes. 40 % of the people who have cancer of the thymus show symptoms that point towards Myasthenia Gravis. 5 % of the people with thymus cancer have medical conditions, such as, Sjogren's syndrome, Cushing syndrome, thyroiditis, polymyositis, SLE, etc.

Thymoma Symptoms

Clinical features of a thymoma include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Double vision
  • Muscular weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • The eyelids droop
  • Swelling of the arm or face
  • Anemia
  • Higher susceptibility to infections
  • Giddiness
  • Myasthenia gravis; a chronic condition which weakens the muscles and increases vulnerability to a host of infections

How is Thymoma Diagnosed?

  • CT scan: helps estimate the size of the tumor and the extent of spread.
  • Biopsy: histological examination, after taking a sample of the cancer mass helps in the classification of the thymoma.
  • Laboratory tests: anti-bodies to the aceylcholine receptors, protein electrophoresis, liver enzyme analysis, CBC, and kidney-function tests.

Thymoma Treatment

Treatment for a thymoma is a multi disciplinary approach, and comprises of surgical intervention, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

  1. Surgery is the principal line of treatment for a thymoma. In case the tumor mass is very big and invasive, pre-operative chemotherapy helps minimize the size of the mass and makes the removal easier. Initial stage thymoma is managed with surgery; the tumor is excised along with some of the surrounding healthy tissue.
  2. Removal of the gland does not cause immune deficiency in adults; on the other hand, post-operative immune levels are comparatively abnormal in children, and vaccinations need to be administered.
  3. Invasive thymomas require additional treatment with radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy.

Thymoma Prognosis

Prognosis of a thymoma depends up on the degree of metastasis. Stages 3 and 4 show poor prognosis, as compared to, stages 1 and 2. Invasive thymomas metastasize to bones, liver, pleura, and brain in 7 % cases. People who have had a thymectomy must be informed about the probable side effects after the surgery.


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