A thymoma is a tumor in the thymus gland. While rare in the general population, it is more common in people who have myasthenia gravis.

These tumors can be benign. But they can be cancer of the thymus gland. They typically grow slowly, but can break out of their capsules and grow aggressively. Proper evaluation of thymomas is crucial for getting the right treatment.

Diagnosing Thymoma
Treating Thymoma

Diagnosing Thymoma

About half of the people who have a thymoma experience no symptoms at all. Often, their tumors are discovered when they undergo an X-ray or CT scan for some other reason.

Because a growing thymoma can put pressure on other structures in the chest, many people come to the emergency room complaining of pressure in the chest. Another symptom is a persistent cough.

A diagnosis can usually be made from a CT or CAT scan. A biopsy may be needed to stage larger tumors, which — if found cancerous — may require chemotherapy before surgery.

The treatment plan depends on the size of the thymoma, and if malignant, the stage of the cancer and how aggressive it is.

Treating Thymoma

A thymectomy – the removal of the thymus gland – is typically done to remove a thymoma. Depending on the size, location and aggressiveness of the tumor, options for surgery include:

  • Sternotomy: involves splitting the breastbone to gain access to the thymus. This may be performed if the tumor is very large, aggressive and malignant
  • Video Assisted Thorascopic Surgery (VATS): a laparoscopic technique that involves inserting instruments and scopes through three small incisions made on one side of the chest
  • Robotic thymectomy: a newer laparoscopic technique that gives surgeons better visibility and greater precision in removing the thymus

For small tumors that are caught early, Swedish thoracic surgeons have been very successful performing robotic thymectomies using the daVinci robotic system.

Patients who have a robotic thymectomy typically:

  • Experience less pain after surgery
  • Have shorter stays in the hospital
  • Recover more quickly

If a tumor is cancerous, radiation and chemotherapy may be part of the treatment plan. The Swedish Cancer Institute is a renowned regional referral center. It offers patients a full spectrum of care that includes innovative new treatments along with patient and family support.