Thymoma

Specialty of Cardiothoracic surgery

What is a thymoma?

A thymoma, or thymus carcinoma, is a tumour originating from the epithelial cells of the thymus gland, located near the sternum, in the upper area of the anterior mediastinum, behind the breast bone. It is a fairly rare tumour that generally affects people between 40 and 70 (although it can affect people of any age) and equally affects men and women.

Based on its activity and invasive growth stage, thymomas can be classified into:

  1. Stage I: the tumour is completely encapsulated in the thymus gland and hasn’t spread to the surrounding structures;
  2. Stage II: the tumour has spread through the capsule into surrounding fatty tissue and mediastinal pleura;
  3. Stage III: the tumour has spread to adjacent organs;
  4. Stage IV: it has metastasised to other organs, reaching the pericardium, pleura, blood vessels and lymph nodes.

Prognosis of a thymoma:

The outlook for thymoma depends on the tumour’s activity, which is generally slow, and on the stage the tumour has reached.

What are the symptoms of a thymoma?

The vast majority of people who have thymoma generally have no symptoms.

When there are some, those usually are:

Muscle weakness

  • Dysphonia
  • Dysphagia
  • Chest pain
  • Muscular pain
  • Oedema
  • High temperature
  • Muscular hypotrophy
  • Weight loss
  • A sense of suffocation
  • Coughing

How is a thymoma diagnosed?

You will need to do a chest X-ray scan. If you have thymoma, the X-ray scan will show the neoplasm as a mass near the heart. To determine which treatment could work best for you, you will need to have a biopsy (by surgically removing a tissue sample) and a CT scan to assess how much the thymoma has spread.

What causes a thymoma?

It is not clear what causes thymoma, as well as which risk factors could lead to developing it.

How can thymoma be prevented?

Given that neither causes or risk factors for thymoma are clear as of yet, there are no indications as for what to do in terms of prevention.

How is a thymoma treated?

The treatment for thymoma depends on which stage it has reached and on your overall health:

  • Surgery: it is the most common option for the surgical removal of thymoma;
  • Radiotherapy: it can be done after surgery to kill off the remaining tumour cells and avoid their proliferation. It is also done in case you can’t have surgery;
  • Chemotherapy: it is done to reduce the size of the tumour or to prevent it from growing.

Which doctor should I talk to?

You should see a thoracic surgeon or an oncologist.

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