Medical Video: Tumors in the Thymus Gland (Thymectomy)
Thymoma or thymoma is a rare type of cancer. However, you still need to know what the causes, signs and treatment options are.
What is thymus cancer?
Thymus is a gland located in the front of the chest, precisely behind the breastbone. As part of the immune system, the thymus gland produces white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes help your body fight infection.
There are two types of thymus cancer, namely thymus (thymoma) and thymic carcinoma. Both types of cancer are rare. Thymus cancer occurs when cancer cells form on the outer surface of the thymus.
Thymic carcinoma is far more aggressive and more difficult to treat than thymoma. People with thymus cancer usually have autoimmune diseases, such as myasthenia gravis and rheumatoid arthritis (rheumatism). Thymic carcinoma is also called type C thymoma.
Causes of thymus cancer
Reporting from the American Cancer Society, not much information why thymus cancer can grow in some people. Researchers have found several DNA changes in people who experience thymoma cells when compared to normal cells. However, researchers are not sure why this change occurs in some people and how cancer can form.
Symptoms of thymus cancer
About 4 out of 10 people with this cancer have no symptoms when they are diagnosed. Often, cancer is found when undergoing other health tests. If signs and symptoms occur, it may include persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, or chest pain. However, this is still uncertain.
Risk factors for thymus cancer
Some studies suggest a possible link between radiation exposure to the upper chest. However, this has not been confirmed. So far there are no risk factors associated with the environment or certain lifestyle that are closely related to thymoma or thymic carcinoma.
The risk of this type of cancer increases with age. This type of cancer rarely occurs in children and young adults. It generally occurs in middle-aged adults and people over 70 years. Both men and women can get this cancer.
How do doctors diagnose thymus cancer?
A general physical examination will be conducted to find out if you have unusual signs on the chest, such as a lump. Other tests used are:
- X-ray of the chest
- Imaging tests such as PET scans, CT scans, and MRI
The cancer classification method is based on the size, level, and characteristics that occur. There is no single classification system for this disease. However, many doctors use the Masaoka classification system that classifies this disease to stage 1 to stage 4.
Stage 1 cancer still has not spread to other parts, whereas in stage 4, cancer has spread to other organs such as the liver or kidneys. Treatment for this cancer depends on the stage of the disease and also your overall physical condition.
Treatment options for thymus cancer
There are several treatments that can be done for thymoma. The type of treatment carried out depends on the stage. Your treatment plan can consist of more than one treatment. Here are some treatment plans that can be chosen, namely:
Surgery / surgery
Surgery is the best way to eliminate almost all types of cancer, including thymus cancer. If the cancer has spread too extensively, the doctor may recommend radiation to shrink the tumor first and afterwards surgery. Doctors also make it possible to do other types of treatment to eliminate cancer other than surgery.
Radiation or chemotherapy
Radiation or chemotherapy can be given before or after surgery. This procedure uses X-rays to kill cancer cells. While chemotherapy drugs are usually given intravenously so that the drug works throughout the body and can kill cancer that has spread to other areas.
Hormone therapy is another treatment option for thymus cancer. Some hormones can cause cancer to grow fertile and if cancer is found to have hormone receptors, drugs can be given in that section to block the hormone from cancer cells.
After the treatment is complete, you still need to do a routine check to monitor the side effects of treatment. In addition, this is also done to ensure that the cancer does not return because the risk of cancer returning is still very possible. Because thymus cancer is very rare, consult a specialist (oncologist) what treatment is best for you.