The thymus is a gland located in the upper chest behind the breast bone (sternum), the thymus plays a role in the early development of your body’s immune system. The thymus has various types of cells where, on rare occasion, tumors can develop.
A thymoma is an uncommon condition , this slow-growing tumor is typically categorized as noninvasive or invasive. Individuals with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder, often have a thymoma.
Even rarer is thymic carcinoma, a malignant form of cancer of the thymus that can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. The condition is most likely to develop in people between 40 and 60 years of age.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Thymic Tumors
While these conditions sometimes cause few, if any symptoms, a large and expanding thymic tumor may begin to compress organs in the chest, causing:
- trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
- chest pain
- persistent cough
- shortness of breath
- hoarse voice
Recommended diagnostics tests may include:
- Chest X-ray
- CT Scan of the neck and chest
Surgical Treatment Options for Thymic Tumors
Surgery serves as the primary treatment of thymic tumors and involves the removal of the thymus (thymectomy).
For thymomas that do not invade any of the surrounding organs, surgery is usually all that is needed for a complete cure. Invasive thymomas and thymic carcinoma require chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy following surgery.
NorthShore’s experienced thoracic surgeons regularly perform thymectomies using minimally invasive approaches that offer less pain and faster recovery. In most cases, we employ advanced robotic or thoracoscopic surgery techniques to take out the thymus. Traditional open surgery (sternotomy) may be required to remove larger thymomas (5 to 6 cm).
For More Information
To schedule an appointment with one of our thoracic surgeons, please call 847.570.2868.