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A thymoma is a cancerous tumor that forms in the cells on the outer surface of the thymus, a small lymphatic organ situated in the upper chest between the lungs. A vital part of the body’s immune system, the thymus secretes thymosin, a hormone that stimulates the development of T cells. Throughout childhood, certain white blood cells (lymphocytes) pass through the thymus, where they are transformed into infection-fighting T cells.

The thymus remains active only until puberty, at which time it begins to shrink and gradually becomes replaced by fatty tissue. As such, all or a portion of the thymus can usually be removed from an adult without causing any harmful effects. What’s more, thymomas tend to be slow-growing and spread only locally if at all. For these reasons, most thymomas are curable.

How is thymoma treated?

Many early-stage thymomas can be cured with surgery to remove the tumor along with a small margin of surrounding healthy tissue. Oftentimes, a localized tumor can be removed without the need to perform a preliminary biopsy. After the tumor is surgically removed, radiation therapy may be administered to help destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent a recurrence.

For later-stage thymomas, other treatment options may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and new immunotherapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are currently being studied in clinical trials. The optimal treatment approach is determined based on several unique factors, such as the size and location of the thymoma and the patient’s age and overall health.

An advanced thymoma may be categorized as thymic cancer, which tends to be more aggressive—and more likely to recur—than thymoma. Thymic carcinoma is often treated with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, even if the cancer has remained localized.

If you are currently exploring your treatment options for thymoma, talking with an expert can go a long way toward calming your fears and getting you started on the right treatment as early as possible. To connect with a specialist in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online to request an appointment. We are committed to providing cancer expertise in one day.