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Thymus Cancer: An overview of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

  • Posted on- Oct 15, 2015
  • 469 Views

The thymus gland is an organ in your chest, underneath the breastbone and a part of your body’s immune system. The thymus gland is responsible for the production of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes help your body fight infection.

There are two major types of thymus cancer: thymoma and thymic carcinoma. Both of these are rare cancers. When compared, thymic carcinoma is more aggressive and difficult to treat. Patients with thymoma generally suffer from an autoimmune disease as well.

Symptoms associated with thymus cancer

Initially, there are no signs or symptoms. But when the tumor in the thymus becomes large and start to press on nearby structures, the following symptoms may occur:


The thymus is located near the superior vena cava, the primary blood vessel bringing blood from the head and upper body to the heart. Tumors that press on this vessel can cause symptoms including:
  • Inflammation in the face, neck, and upper chest, sometimes with a bluish color
  • Swelling of the visible veins in this part of the body
  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed

Tests and diagnosis of thymus cancer

If your doctor is sure that you are showing various symptoms of thymus cancer, he may suggest:
  • Medical history and physical exam: Your doctor will want to take a complete medical history to check for symptoms. You will possibly undergo a physical examination that will give the doctor information about possible signs of thymic cancer and other health problems.
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays, Computed tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, Positron emission tomography (PET) scan create pictures of the inside of your body. These tests might be done to find a suspicious area that might be cancerous.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests may not identify thymus cancer directly, but they may still be helpful in some situations. Blood tests may be done to make sure a mass in the middle of the chest isn’t a germ cell tumor or part of the thyroid gland.
  • Biopsy: Biopsy is a procedure where the doctor takes a sample tissue and sends it to the laboratory for testing. This procedure is crucial because doctors can’t be certain of the diagnosis without looking at the tumor under a microscope.

Treatment options for thymus cancer

Once you have been diagnosed with thymus cancer, it is important to choose the right kind of treatment. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. Certain factors play a role determining the kind of treatment such as type of cancer, whether you have any other serious medical problems, etc. Here are some of the treatment options:
  • Surgical procedure to completely removal of the thymus (including any tumor).
  • Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation in the form of X-rays or radioactive particles to exterminate cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs that are given intravenously or orally, which enter the bloodstream and reach throughout the body destroying cancer cells.

Once treatment is over, follow-up visits are necessary. This is to monitor you for any side effects from the treatment and to ensure that the cancer has not returned. The risk of the cancer returning is high.