About Thymic Cancer

The thymus is a small organ located in the chest behind the breast bone. It forms an important part of the body’s immune system as it produces T lymphocytes during childhood. Thymic cancer is rare and occurs when the cells in the gland begin growing and multiplying uncontrollably. The thymus comprises different cells, and most thymic cancers usually begin in the cells that line the gland (epithelial cells). The two most common types of thymic cancers are: Thymoma Thymic carcinoma Thymic cancer treatment options will depend upon the type, location, extent, stage and spread of cancer. You may be at risk of getting thymic cancer if you have conditions like myasthenia gravis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Thymic cancer life expectancy five years after diagnosis can range from 32% to 92%, depending upon the stage and spread of cancer.

Symptoms

Since the thymus is in the middle of the chest, any growth in size can press on vital structures like blood vessels or the airway. So, the most common symptoms of thymic cancer include:

  • Chest pain
  • A persistent cough (sometimes with bloody sputum)
  • Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hoarseness of voice

Other less common symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Anaemia (reduced red blood cells)
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Unexplained weight loss

 If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your doctor and get them checked out. It is important to note that these symptoms may be observed in many other medical conditions and do not necessarily mean you have thymic cancer.

Diagnosis

Most thymic cancers are accidentally diagnosed when a chest x-ray is taken for another condition. After evaluating your symptoms, medical and family history, your doctor may recommend the following tests to help diagnose thymic cancer:

  • CAT/CT Scan: This is a standard imaging test that gives a 3-dimensional view of the insides of the body and enables your doctor to assess the size of your thymic tumour.
  • MRI: This imaging test helps detect cancerous growth in the body, its location, extent and spread.
  • PET scan: This scan may be performed with a CT scan to give detailed information about the spread of cancer in the body. 
  • Biopsy: If your doctor suspects thymic cancer after initial tests, a biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Your symptoms and diagnostic test results will help your doctor and healthcare team determine how to treat thymic cancer.

Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with thymic cancer, your treatment will be taken care of by a multidisciplinary team of specialists. Your thymic cancer treatment options will depend upon the following factors:

  • Type of thymic tumour
  • Stage
  • Grade
  • Your age and overall health

The standard choices for treating thymic cancer are:

  • Surgery: This is the primary treatment for thymic cancer, and its goal is to remove as much of the tumour as possible.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill or destroy cancer cells. 
  • Chemotherapy: Strong anti-cancer drugs are used to kill cancer, especially in unresectable (cannot be treated by surgery) thymic cancers. Chemotherapy is commonly used in treating stage 3 and stage 4 thymic cancer.

Other treatment options that may be used in treating thymic cancer include targeted therapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy. Your doctor may also advise you to sign up for clinical trials if they feel it can help treat your cancer.

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