Thymus cancer is the cancerous growth (tumor) seen in the thymus gland which is located behind the breast bone (sternum) just in front and above the heart. The thymus gland is divided into two lobes (halves) and is composed of mainly three layers: medulla is the deepest part of the thymus, cortex is the layer covering the medulla and the capsule which is a thin layer forming the outer covering of the thymus.
Thymus cancer is a rare form of cancer and is classified as:
This type of thymus cancer is usually malignant and can metastasize to the surrounding organs. People with thymomas usually have an accompanying auto-immune disease as well.
These are abnormal cancerous growths found developing in the thymic epithelial cells. This form of thymus cancer is more difficult to treat.
What are the causes of Thymus Cancer?
Although the exact cause for this rare type of cancer is unknown medical researchers have been successful in pinpointing certain risk factors that may increase the chances of developing thymus cancer in people.
These are the risk factors associated to the cause for thymus cancer:
Age – The risk of developing thymus cancer is known to increase with advancing age. This form of cancer is rarely seen in young adults and children and is most often seen in middle-aged and senior-aged individuals.
Ethnicity – Certain ethnic groups such as the Asians and Pacific Islanders are most at risk followed by the African Americans and least seen among the Caucasians and Latinos.
A person suffering from thymus cancer is most likely to show the following symptoms:
- Breathing problems
- Constant cough
- Chest pain (angina)
How is Thymus Cancer diagnosed?
A comprehensive screening test is the best form of diagnostic method to determine the presence of thymus cancer. As most people do not exhibit any form of visible symptoms it gets difficult to diagnose thymus cancer easily. Mostly a chest x-ray for a different purpose might give an indication towards the presence of cancer in the thymus gland.
The oncologist will usually perform a number of imaging tests such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan, chest x-ray or even a biopsy to determine the location, size and extent of the thymus cancer.
Early detection of thymus cancer is most vital to successfully remove and treat the cancer.
How is Thymus Cancer treated?
There are various methods used to treat a case of thymus cancer. The best-suited and most efficient treatment method for your case will be selected depending on several factors such as the type and stage of the thymus cancer, the possibilities of a successful surgical removal (resection) as well as any other prevalent medical conditions that you might be suffering from.
The treatment for thymus cancer is handled by a team of specialists that includes a thoracic surgeon, radiation oncologist, pulmonologist, medical oncologist, neurologist and other experienced surgical support staff.
These are the treatment methods used for treating thymus cancer:
This is the most common and popular form of thymus cancer treatment. The surgical treatment for thymus cancer involves the surgeon gaining access to your thymus gland after an incision to the chest. The surgeon will then use surgical tools to remove the maximum amount of cancerous tissue possible as well as to remove parts of the surrounding healthier tissue to decrease the risk of the cancer from recurring.
In case the cancerous growth (tumor) is larger in size or has spread too much to be efficiently removed completely the surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible using surgical tools and recommend a radiation therapy session to destroy any remnant tissues of the cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of x-rays or other particles to destroy the cancerous cells. This treatment method is mostly a non-invasive treatment with an external device being used to focus high-energy radiation on to the cancer from outside the body. Another minimally invasive form of radiation therapy involves inserting a small radioactive capsule into the body from a very small (keyhole) incision and using its radiation to target the cancerous cells in the thymus gland.
Chemotherapy is the use of medicinal drugs to treat thymus cancer. These medicinal drugs are useful in shrinking the size of larger-sized thymus tumors as well as destroying smaller-sized cancers of the thymus gland.
Chemotherapy is usually performed using intravenous injections which allow the medicines to transverse the entire body through the bloodstream.
This therapy is basically a hormone replacement procedure that targets certain hormones from being produced that are known to help the cancer grow.
For people with thymus cancer most of the times the treatment methods are successful in destroying or removing the cancer completely and the team of specialists will take every possible care to prevent the cancer from recurring.