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Everything You Need to Know About Thymus Cancer

  • 13 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read

What is thymus cancer? This is a common question exasperated patients ask their doctors. Let us find out what thymus cancer is and gain knowledge about this rare cancer type. The thymus is a small organ in the upper chest above the heart and behind the sternum (breastbone). Thymus cancer occurs when cells mutate, become malignant, and grow out of control. This cancer type is common among middle-aged adults and individuals 70 years or older.


What is Thymus Cancer? 

The thymus is a small gland that plays a vital function in maintaining the body’s immune system. The thymus produces white blood cells called lymphocytes that protect us from viral and bacterial infections. The two main types of thymus cancer are thymoma carcinoma and thymic carcinoma. Thymoma cancer is more common, grows slowly, and can spread to other body parts. Thymic carcinoma develops more quickly and also spreads to other body parts. 


Symptoms of Thymus Cancer 

Most thymus cancer patients do not show symptoms until the tumour grows large enough to start pressing on nearby organs or blood vessels in the chest. The symptoms can include persistent cough, difficulty breathing, chest pain, drooping eyelids, loss of appetite, double vision, dizziness, low red blood cell count, and unexplained weight loss. Many people develop an autoimmune disorder called myasthenia gravis (weakening of skeletal muscles) with the onset of this thymus tumour. 

How is Thymus Cancer Diagnosed? 

A thymus tumour can be detected with imaging tests such as chest X-ray, CT scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan, and blood test. The doctor will enquire the patient about their health history, symptoms, risk factors, and family history regarding the disease. Once the tumour is surgically removed, the surgeon sends it to the pathologist who examines the tumour for cancerous growth. Doctors sometimes inject a special dye called contrast medium on the patient before the scan for clearer details of the image. 

The TNM staging system is used to assess the various stages of thymus cancer, from stage 1 to stage 4, based on the size of the tumour (T), spread to lymph nodes (N), and the indication of metastasis (M), or its spread to other parts of the body. Stage 1 is non-invasive, while stage 4 indicates the cancer’s spread to distant organs such as the liver or kidneys. Diagnosis is most critical as it helps healthcare professionals determine the ways to treat the cancer.

Also read:

How is Thymus Cancer Treated? 

Treatment is primarily aimed at reducing the size of the tumour. Patients diagnosed with thymoma and thymic carcinoma undergo different types of treatments, including the following treatment methods depending on the type of thymus cancer detected. 

Doctors recommend treatment procedures according to the size and spread of the tumour in the body, which include: 

  1. Surgery: Under this procedure, the tissue affected by the growth of cancer cells is surgically removed to prevent further spread to nearby organs.
  2. Radiotherapy: This therapy is one of the most popular and effective medical treatments to treat thymus cancer patients. Radio oncologists use radioactive chemicals or X-rays to kill the DNA structure of cancerous cells under this therapy.
  3. Chemotherapy: In this treatment procedure, the doctor adopts a chemical treatment administered through an intravenous drip that helps in blocking cell growth, and cancerous cells lose their ability to reproduce in the thymus area.
  4. Targeted Therapy: This type of treatment is mainly used to identify and attack specific cancer cells in the body. Targeted therapy includes tyrosine kinase inhibitors and mammalian target rapamycin inhibitors.
  5. Immunotherapy: In immunotherapy, doctors try to improve a patient's immune response by prescribing drugs such as Pembrolizumab, Cetuximab, and Nivolumab to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy can be done if thymic carcinoma has not responded to chemotherapy.
  6. Clinical trial: A clinical trial is a study that is done to test the safety and effectiveness of new or different cancer treatments. 

Coping With Thymus Cancer

Coping with a rare type of cancer as thymus cancer can be extremely challenging, causing worry, depression, and stress among the patient and their near and dear ones. The patient’s family should remain in constant touch with the concerned healthcare team if the patient faces any problems during the treatment procedure. Family members and friends often play an important role in taking care of a person suffering from a thymic tumour. They must function as caregivers, providing physical, practical, and emotional support to the patient as undergoing cancer treatment can be hard on the mind and body. Reducing financial stress at such times is among the most crucial aspects of the treatment stage for both patients and their families. It is in moments like these that solid health coverage becomes priceless. For instance, the ICICI Lombard health insurance policy can readily help such individuals offset cancer treatment costs.

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