Thymus Cancer (Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma): The Basics
The thymus is a gland that lies under the breastbone. It is part of your immune system and makes T lymphocytes that fight infection. When there are cancer cells in the tymus, it is called thymus cancer. There are two main types of thymus cancer: Thymoma and thymic carcinoma.
- Thymoma is a slow-growing tumor that does not spread.
- Thymic carcinoma is more aggressive and does spread.
Cancer that has spread from the thymus to another part of the body is called metastatic cancer.
The risk factors for cancer of the thymus are not known but some people with thymoma may have other autoimmune diseases like myasthenia gravis.
Currently, there are no screening tests for thymus cancer.
Signs of Thymus Cancer
Signs of thymus cancer are:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Losing your appetite.
- Having a hard time swallowing.
Thymus cancer can cause autoimmune problems such as myasthenia gravis, red cell aplasia, and hypogammaglobulinemia.
This type of cancer is most often diagnosed with an x-ray or imaging test of the chest. If it has spread to other parts of the chest, those areas may be biopsied.
Staging Thymus Cancer
Cancer of the thymus is staged using the Masaoka staging system. It takes into account the extent of the disease if it has spread to nearby tissues and the type of cell making up the cancer. The stages range from I-IV.
Often, these treatments are used:
- Surgery: removal of part or all of the thymus gland.
- Radiation Therapy: the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: the use of medications to kill cancer cells.
This article is an introduction to cancer of the thymus. You can learn more about thymus cancer staging and treatment at OncoLink.org.
American Cancer Society, Thymus Cancer, http://www.cancer.org/cancer/thymuscancer/index
National Cancer Institute, Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma Treatment PDQ, http://www.cancer.gov/types/thymoma/patient/thymoma-treatment-pdq
Toker, A., Sonett, J., Zielinski, M., Rea, F., Tomulescu, V., & Detterbeck, F. C. (2011). Standard terms, definitions, and policies for minimally invasive resection of thymoma. Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 6(7), S1739-S1742.