What are the symptoms of thymoma and other thymic tumors?

Many people with thymus tumors don’t have any symptoms. The tumors are often found as a result of testing for other conditions. Symptoms can include:

  • Cough
  • Muscle weakness
  • Chest pressure or pain, trouble breathing

Sometimes in thymic cancer, the body makes too much of a substance called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol and other hormones.

This condition can lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diabetes
  • Increased body and facial hair
  • Thin or darkened skin (Cushing’s syndrome)

How are thymoma and other thymic tumors diagnosed?

Thymomas are often associated with symptoms that are not directly caused by the tumor mass itself. These are called paraneoplastic syndromes (tumor-related conditions). Some of these conditions can help in diagnosing thymomas while the tumor is still at an early stage.

Tests used to diagnose thymic cancer include:

  • Biopsy. A sample of the tumor can be obtained with a needle biopsy, in which the doctor removes a small sample of cells with a thin needle inserted into the chest, or with a surgical biopsy (a Chamberlain procedure or a mediastinotomy), in which the doctor makes a small incision in the chest and removes a sample of the tumor. Sometimes the entire tumor can be removed during biopsy.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging methods such as a chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, positive emission tomography (PET) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can provide details, location and size of the tumor.
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