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Thymus gland cancer

Thymus Gland Cancer on a body diagram of the head and neck

Facts and figures about thymus gland cancer

Thymus gland cancer is very rare; accounting for only 0.2-1.5% of all malignancies. Equal incidence in men and women; male to female ratio is approximately 1:1. Age related, although this varies depending on type of tumour. The most common is a thymoma and the highest incidence is in the 40-60 years age group, thymic tumours are much rarer and can occur at any age although it tends to be middle aged onwards. Risk factors include some autoimmune conditions and 40% of those diagnosed have myasthenia gravis but some causes are unknown.

Thymus gland cancer symptoms

  • (Some patients have no symptoms relating to this and approximately 50% of these tumours are detected on a plain chest x-ray performed for other reasons).
  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Cough/chest pain.
  • Fatigue.

Diagnosis of thymus gland cancer

Investigations may include:

  • Chest X-ray.
  • CT scan.
  • PET-CT scan.
  • MRI scan.
  • Mediastinoscopy.

Thymus gland cancer treatment

Depends on several factors:

  • The type of tumour.
  • The stage of the cancer.
  • General health.


Surgery to remove the thymus gland is the main treatment. 50% of thymomas are localised within a capsule, which makes complete excision possible and will usually be sufficient treatment for these tumours. However, in other cases where there is no fibrous capsule around the tumour, excision is more difficult and if incomplete, post-operative radiotherapy would be advised. Thymic tumours are difficult to remove, so they will require surgery and radiotherapy. Thymic tumours develop quicker and spread to other parts of the body, often lungs, chest lymph nodes and sometimes bone and liver.


Radiotherapy is most likely to be used post operatively where there is incomplete excision of the tumour or to reduce the risk of recurrence. Occasionally it is used to shrink the tumour before surgery.


Chemotherapy is sometimes used if the tumour has spread, or if surgery and/or radiotherapy have not been successful. Thymus gland cancers can respond very well to chemotherapy. Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs will be used.

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