At MD Anderson, our experts use the most advanced and accurate equipment available for thymoma diagnosis and determine with pinpoint accuracy if and where it has spread. They have extensive experience diagnosing all types of thymoma, including rare forms of the disease. The chances for successful thymoma treatment are much higher if the cancer is caught early and diagnosed accurately.
If you have symptoms that signal thymoma, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health, lifestyle and your family medical history.
However, thymoma often does not have symptoms in the early stages. In fact, many cases of thymoma are discovered incidentally, such as in a chest X-ray taken for another condition.
Other tests used to diagnose thymoma and/or monitor the disease’s response to treatment include:
Imaging exams: Imaging exams for thymoma include X-rays, MRIs and CT scans. While many cancers require a tissue sample for a diagnosis, doctors can often tell if a patient has thymoma based on an imaging exam. Learn more about imaging exams.
Biopsy: In a biopsy, tissue from the suspected cancer is obtained and studied under a microscope by pathologists to help with a diagnosis. Often, the biopsy is performed by an interventional radiologist who uses a live image to guide a needle to the site of growth. This needle is used to obtain a tissue sample. Other times, an open biopsy by surgery may be needed. Learn more about biopsies.
Blood tests: These tests cannot diagnose thymoma, but they can help doctors understand the patient’s symptoms, including if the thymoma is causing an autoimmune condition such as myasthenia gravis.
Staging is a way of determining how much disease is in the body and where it has spread. This information helps your doctors decide the best type of treatment for you and the outlook for your recovery.
(Source: National Cancer Institute)
In stage I, cancer is found only within the thymus. All cancer cells are inside the capsule (sac) that surrounds the thymus.
In stage II, cancer has spread through the capsule and into the fat around the thymus or into the lining of the chest cavity.
In stage III, cancer has spread to nearby organs in the chest, including the lung, the sac around the heart, or large blood vessels that carry blood to the heart.
Stage IV is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB, depending on where the cancer has spread.
- In stage IVA, cancer has spread widely around the lungs or heart.
- In stage IVB, cancer has spread to the blood or lymph system.