Thymoma and other thymic tumors affect only hundreds in the U.S. each year. But treatment of rare cancers is all in a day’s work for Miami Cancer Institute’s experienced team. Our team members are up to the minute in the latest treatment options and are experienced in treating and managing complex tumors involving critical organs and structures. If you’ve been told that your thymic tumor is inoperable, we may be able to offer surgical and other options not widely available elsewhere.
You’ll also have access to support and services to help you and your family throughout your cancer journey. And we may be able to offer a chance to participate in clinical trials through our membership in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance.
What are thymoma and other thymic tumors?
These tumors affect the thymus, a small organ located beneath the breastbone in the chest that is part of the lymphatic system, the body’s network for transporting infection-fighting white blood cells (lymphocytes) throughout the body. The thymus is most active during childhood, reaches its greatest size at puberty, and gradually shrinks in adulthood.
What are the types of thymoma and thymic?
The three main types of thymic cancer are:
About 90 percent of tumors that develop in the thymus are thymomas. These tumors begin in the cells that line the outside of the thymus and tend to grow slowly. They rarely spread outside of the thymus, but a few thymomas are aggressive and spread to organs in the chest or the lining of the lung (the pleura).
Approximately 500 Americans are diagnosed with thymomas each year, most of them between ages 40 and 60. In many cases, the tumor is discovered during treatment for an unrelated illness. For example, the autoimmune disorder myasthenia gravis is found in a third of people with thymomas. With this illness, nerve impulses are not transmitted properly to muscles, which can result in severe muscle weakness. This often affects muscles that control eye and eyelid movement, facial expression, and swallowing.
About one in ten people with thymomas have a form of anemia known as red cell aplasia, or hypogammaglobulinemia. This deficiency of immune-fighting gamma globulins increases susceptibility to infections.
As many as one in ten thymic tumors are found to be thymic carcinoma. Thymic carcinomas can grow more quickly than thymomas and can sometimes spread outside the thymus.
Thymic carcinoids are rare and slow-growing cancers, also known as neuroendocrine tumors. Neuroendocrine tumors are most common in the digestive tract and lungs, but can also start in the thymus gland. They occur more frequently in men than in women and are more likely than thymomas to spread or recur. The rare genetic disorder multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndrome is sometimes associated with thymic carcinoids because it can prompt the parathyroid glands, pituitary gland and pancreas to produce too many hormones.
What are the risk factors for thymoma and thymic tumors?
Age. Thymic cancer is rare in children and young adults, more common in middle-aged adults, and most common in those in their 70s.
Ethnicity. In the US, thymic cancer is most common in Asians and Pacific Islanders and least common in whites and Latinos. It is more common in African Americans than in whites.
Because the only known risk factors are age and ethnicity, there is no known way to prevent thymic cancer.