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Thymoma is a rare and slow-growing cancer that forms in the epithelial cells of the thymus, a small gland located behind the breastbone. As part of the body’s lymphatic system, the thymus produces and trains certain infection-fighting white blood cells known as T-lymphocytes (T-cells).

Thymoma treatment can vary depending on several  factors, including:

  • The stage of the cancer (whether it has spread to nearby tissues)
  • The size of the tumor
  • The patient’s age and overall health
  • The nature and results of any previous treatments

Patient discussing thymoma treatment with nurse

Surgery for thymoma

For an early-stage thymoma, surgery is the standard treatment. To address a relatively small tumor, a thoracic surgeon may perform a robotic-assisted thymectomy to remove the entire thymus along with some nearby lymph nodes. During this minimally invasive procedure, the surgeon will make a few small incisions around the breast. Compared to open surgery, this approach generally leads to less discomfort, minimal scarring and a faster recovery. Most patients are discharged the day after their procedure.

To address a larger tumor, a thoracic surgeon may perform a sternotomy, which involves cutting the breast bone to open the middle of the chest. Sometimes, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is administered before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. Most patients remain in the hospital for a few days afterward, and a full recovery can take several weeks or longer.

After surgery, radiation therapy may be delivered to destroy residual cancer cells and help prevent a recurrence.

Chemotherapy for thymoma

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that kills fast-growing cells, such as thymoma cells. After being administered orally or intravenously, powerful cancer-fighting drugs enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body to target and destroy widespread cancer cells. If thymoma surgery is not an option, chemotherapy may be performed as a standalone treatment or in combination with radiation therapy. 

Radiation therapy for thymoma

Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams to precisely target and destroy cancer cells. Two main types of radiation therapy can be used to treat thymoma:

  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) - Tailored to the exact shape of the tumor, IMRT is often used to treat thymomas that have invaded nearby lymph nodes.
  • Volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT) - A highly accurate type of IMRT, VMAT involves the use of a machine that rotates around the patient’s body in an arc while generating beams of energy.

Proton therapy for thymoma

A specialized type of radiation therapy, proton therapy uses positively charged particles found in the nucleus of an atom. After the proton beams enter the patient’s body with a low dose of radiation (the “entrance dose”), the dose increases as it approaches the targeted area and the maximum dose is delivered to the tumor. The treatment stops immediately afterward; there is no “exit dose” involved. Proton therapy can deliver high-powered beams with extreme precision—usually within one millimeter of accuracy—allowing for the delivery of a powerful dose of radiation directly to a tumor.

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

If you are diagnosed with thymoma, the multispecialty team at Moffitt can evaluate your unique situation to determine which treatments could potentially provide the best possible outcome and quality of life. In a single location, we offer some of the most innovative thymoma treatment options currently available.

At Moffitt, you will find thoracic surgeons who specialize in performing highly complex lung and chest procedures, including thymectomies and sternotomies. We also offer the latest chemotherapy drugs and highly precise radiation therapy techniques. Additionally, as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moffitt has a robust and highly regarded clinical trials program that provides our patients with access to promising new thymoma treatment methods that are not yet available in other settings.

You can request an appointment with a specialist at Moffitt without a referral. Call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.