Like all cancers, thymoma treatment is most successful when patients have an experienced care team. With only a few hundred thymoma cases diagnosed a year, many doctors will see only a handful of cases during their career.
Thymoma is not rare to MD Anderson, though. As members of a top-ranked cancer center, our doctors treat numerous thymoma patients every year, from the newly diagnosed to patients with metastatic or recurrent disease. This gives them incredibly deep skill and expertise to draw from when caring for patients.
These doctors work together in multidisciplinary teams. Together, they discuss each case and coordinate surgery, radiation therapy and cancer drugs into a compressive treatment plan tailored to each patient.
As a leading cancer center, MD Anderson can also offer thymoma clinical trials for patients at all stages of the disease. This includes trials for new drugs, including targeted therapy and immunotherapy options.
Thymoma treatment plans
While each cancer is unique, thymomas that are smaller than four centimeters are usually removed with surgery. During this procedure, the entire thymus is removed.
Patients with larger tumors are usually given chemotherapy before surgery. This is meant to shrink the tumor, increasing the chance of a successful procedure.
If the tumor has escaped the primary disease site, patients can receive radiation therapy and cancer drugs like chemotherapy. Surgery may still be performed at the primary site and at places where the disease has spread. These procedures may help relieve symptoms and improve patient outcomes. They are done in coordination with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Thymic carcinoma, or Type C thymoma, usually is diagnosed at an advanced stage. Patients are treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and possibly surgery.
Surgery for thymoma usually requires removing the entire thymus. This procedure is known as a thymectomy.
For small cancers, a thymectomy (removal of the entire thymus) is typically performed with surgical robots. This is a minimally invasive procedure. It requires the surgeon to make three to four small incisions under and to the side of the patient’s breast. Compared to more traditional surgeries, patients who undergo minimally invasive surgery experience less pain and have faster recovery times. They also have shorter hospital stays and are typically discharged the day after the surgery.
Larger tumors usually require a sternotomy. During this procedure, the surgeon opens up the middle of the chest by cutting through the breast bone. Patients who undergo a sternotomy usually stay in the hospital for days. Recovery can take several weeks.
Chemotherapy for thymoma
Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells, including cancer cells. Thymoma patients can receive chemotherapy before surgery. This can help shrink the tumor, improving the chances for a successful surgery. If surgery is not possible, patients can receive chemotherapy in combination with radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy for thymoma
Radiation therapy uses powerful beams of energy to kill cancer cells. If radiation is required, it is typically given after a patient’s surgery. If surgery is not possible, patients usually get radiation in combination with chemotherapy. Patients can receive different types of radiation therapy to treat thymoma. These include:
- Intensity-modulate radiotherapy (IMRT): IMRT is tailored to the specific shape of the tumor. This type of radiation is commonly used to treat cancers that have invaded nearby lymph nodes.
- Volumetric-modulate arc therapy (VMAT): VMAT is a type of IMRT. In VMAT, the part of the machine that shoots out the beam of radiation rotates around the patient in an arc. This can irradiate the tumor more precisely and shorten procedure times.
Proton therapy for thymoma
Proton therapy is a specialized type of radiation therapy that can be more accurate at targeting tumors than standard radiation therapy.
Proton therapy uses protons, which are positively charged particles found in the nucleus of an atom. Proton beams enter the body with a low dose of radiation, called the "entrance dose." The dose increases as it approaches the target area and deposits its maximum radiation directly to the tumor before stopping. There is no "exit dose" beyond the tumor. This means the tumor can be targeted more precisely, usually within one millimeter, and allows for the delivery of a more powerful dose of radiation.
Thymoma clinical trials
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
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