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Thymoma surgery involves removal of the thymus, a pyramid-shaped lymphoid gland situated beneath the breastbone (sternum) at the level of the heart. This procedure, known as a thymectomy, is usually recommended when cells in the thymus become cancerous (thymoma). Thymectomy, can also be used to treat myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder that occasionally occurs along with thymomas.

Types of thymoma surgery

Depending on a patient’s needs, a surgeon may perform thymoma surgery using any of the following techniques:

  • Transsternal thymectomy – After creating an incision in front of the breastbone (sternum), the surgeon divides the sternum (sternotomy) to access and remove the thymus, along with any fat on the surface of the heart sac (pericardium) that may harbor cancerous cells. This is the procedure that is commonly needed to completely remove large thymomas, which is usually the case when they are found.
  • Transcervical thymectomy – By making an incision across the lower neck, the surgeon is able to access and remove the thymus without dividing the sternum. This approach may be feasible when the thymoma is small, but may not remove all the pericardial far that may harbor separate nests of thymoma cells.
  • Robotic-assisted thymectomy – With the assistance of a robotic system, such as the innovative da Vinci® Surgical System, a surgeon removes the thymoma through a few small incisions. This state-of-the-art technology provides a high-definition, three-dimensional view of the surgical site and special wristed surgical instruments that can bend and rotate farther than the human hand. This approach is particularly useful for small thymomas.

To determine whether thymoma surgery is appropriate and, if so, the best approach for a patient, the multispecialty team in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center carefully evaluates a number of individual factors. Patients who are surgical candidates can feel confident in our fellowship-trained, board-certified thoracic surgeons who specialize in performing complex lung and chest procedures, including thymoma surgery. When suitable, performance of robotic-assisted thymectomy with the assistance of the advanced da Vinci System may be offered to the patient.

If you have general questions about thymoma surgery or specific questions about robotic-assisted thymectomy, you can speak with an expert in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. We accept patients with or without referrals.