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Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma Treatment

General Information About Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma

Thymoma and thymic carcinoma are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form on the outside surface of the thymus.

The thymus, a small organ that lies in the upper chest under the breastbone, is part of the lymph system. It makes white blood cells, called lymphocytes, that protect the body against infections.

There are different types of tumors of the thymus. Thymomas and thymic carcinomas are rare tumors of the cells that are on the outside surface of the thymus. The tumor cells in a thymoma look similar to the normal cells of the thymus, grow slowly, and rarely spread beyond the thymus. On the other hand, the tumor cells in a thymic carcinoma look very different from the normal cells of the thymus, grow more quickly, and have usually spread to other parts of the body when the cancer is found. Thymic carcinoma is more difficult to treat than thymoma.

Thymoma is linked with myasthenia gravis and other autoimmune diseases.

People with thymoma often have autoimmune diseases as well. These diseases cause the immune system to attack healthy tissue and organs. They include:

Possible signs of thymoma and thymic carcinoma include a cough and chest pain.

Sometimes thymoma and thymic carcinoma do not cause symptoms. The cancer may be found during a routine chest x-ray. The following symptoms may be caused by thymoma, thymic carcinoma, or other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

Tests that examine the thymus are used to detect (find) thymoma or thymic carcinoma.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

Thymoma and thymic carcinoma are usually diagnosed, staged, and treated during surgery.

A biopsy of the tumor is done to diagnose the disease. The biopsy may be done before or during surgery, using a thin needle to remove a sample of cells. This is called a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. A pathologist will view the sample under a microscope to check for cancer. If thymoma or thymic carcinoma is diagnosed, the pathologist will determine the type of cancer cell in the tumor. There may be more than one type of cancer cell in a thymoma. The surgeon will decide if all or part of the tumor can be removed by surgery. In some cases, lymph nodes and other tissues may be removed as well.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following: