Thymoma is a type of thymus cancer. The thymus is an organ within the chest. Thymoma can cause symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
This article provides a detailed overview of thymoma. It looks at causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment and discusses the outlook for this condition.
The thymus gland is a small organ inside the chest. It is part of the lymphatic system. According to the
The two main forms of TETs are:
- Thymoma: Thymoma cancer cells look similar to regular thymus cells. They grow slowly and rarely spread outside the thymus.
- Thymic carcinoma: These cancer cells look very dissimilar to regular thymus cells. They grow more quickly than thymoma cells and have more potential to spread beyond the thymus.
All cancers occur when cells develop abnormally. They might grow too quickly, multiply too easily, or live too long. Abnormal cell development stems from genetic changes.
Some people are born with cancer-causing genetic changes. Others acquire them during their lives. Doctors know what prompts cancer-causing genetic changes for some cancers but not for TETs.
Scientists are uncertain about the risk factors for TETs.
According to the
- Age: TETs become more common as people get older. These cancers are most common in people in their seventies.
- Ethnicity: In the United States, TETs are most common in people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent and least common in white and Latino people.
- persistent cough
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- hoarse voice
- swelling in the face, neck, upper body, or arms
Myasthenia gravis (MG) is the most common paraneoplastic syndrome linked with thymoma. An estimated
- eyelid drooping
- double vision
- limb weakness
- difficulties with chewing, speaking, breathing, and swallowing
An individual with these symptoms of thymoma should seek medical advice.
Doctors use various tests to diagnose thymoma or thymic carcinoma. The two
Imaging tests produce images of a person’s thymus and surrounding areas. If these tests show any abnormal growth, healthcare professionals will recommend further tests. Imaging tests include:
Biopsies involve surgically removing samples of suspicious-looking thymus tissue for testing in a laboratory. Thymus biopsies are necessary for doctors to diagnose a TET confidently.
However, a biopsy may be unnecessary if imaging tests clearly show a thymoma. Instead, doctors may recommend removing all the suspicious-looking tissue for analysis in a laboratory.
According to the
- Stage 1: All cancer cells are within the capsule, or sac, surrounding the thymus.
- Stage 2: Some cancer cells have spread beyond the capsule. They might be in the fat near the thymus or the lining of the chest cavity.
- Stage 3: The cancer cells have spread to nearby structures such as the lungs, the large blood vessels, or the sac surrounding the heart.
- Stage 4: This stage has two substages. In stage 4A, the cancer cells have dispersed widely throughout the heart or lungs. In stage 4B, the cancer cells have spread into the blood or the lymphatic system.
Determining whether a TET is resectable is an
Almost all stage 1 and 2 TETs and most stage 3 TETs are resectable. Most stage 4 TETs are unresectable. Other TETs may be unresectable because they are too close to vital organs or because the individual cannot undergo surgery.
Doctors may recommend the following treatments for TETs:
- Resectable TETs: Doctors will recommend surgical removal of the thymus and possibly some surrounding tissues. Especially for later resectable TETs, doctors may recommend other treatments after surgery, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
- Unresectable TETs: Doctors may recommend removing some cancer tissues surgically. This is “debulking” surgery. However, with or without debulking surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the primary forms of treatment.
Scientists continue to research treatments for TETs. An individual with thymoma or thymic carcinoma may want to consider taking part in a
According to the ACS, the overall 5-year relative survival rate for thymus cancer is
However, this figure varies with cancer staging. For instance, for TETs localized within the thymus, the 5-year relative survival rate is 94%. However, if a TET has spread to distant organs, the rate drops to 38%.
TETs are thymus cancers originating in the outer layer of thymus cells. Thymoma and thymic carcinoma are the two main types of TETs. Thymoma occurs when thymus cells begin to grow abnormally quickly.
Thymoma can cause various symptoms, usually affecting the organs in the chest. It may also cause paraneoplastic symptoms, including muscle weakening.
Doctors may recommend imaging tests or a biopsy to help diagnose thymoma. Treatment often involves surgery to remove tumors from the thymus and surrounding areas. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also help.