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A tumour of the thymus, an organ that is part of the lymphatic system and is located in the chest, behind the breastbone.
A rare type of thymus gland cancer. It usually spreads, has a high risk of recurrence, and has a poor survival rate. Thymic carcinoma is divided into subtypes, depending on the types of cells in which the cancer began. Also called type C thymoma.
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.
Anatomy of the thymus gland. The thymus gland is a small organ that lies in the upper chest under the breastbone. It makes white blood cells, called lymphocytes, which protect the body against infections.
There are different types of tumours of the thymus. Thymomas and thymic carcinomas are rare tumours of the cells that are on the outside surface of the thymus. The tumour 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 tumour 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.
For information on thymoma and thymic carcinoma in children, see the summary on Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma - Child in the A-Z List of Cancers here.
People with thymoma often have autoimmune diseases as well. These diseases cause the immune system to attack healthy tissue and organs. They include:
People with thymoma can also experience primary immune deficiencies. These deficiencies are rare, genetic disorders that impair the immune system. They include:
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. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
The following tests and procedures may be used:
A biopsy of the tumour is done to diagnose the disease. The biopsy may be done before or during surgery (a mediastinoscopy or mediastinotomy), using a thin needle to remove a sample of cells. This is called a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. Sometimes a wide needle is used to remove a sample of cells and this is called a core 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 tumour. There may be more than one type of cancer cell in a thymoma. The surgeon will decide if all or part of the tumour can be removed by surgery.
In some cases, lymph nodes and other tissues may be removed as well.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
For more information on Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma click here
This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.
Page last updated: 04/05/2020