The thymus is an organ located at the base of the neck in the thyroid, behind the sternum. This is where some cells made in the bone marrow, having a primary role in the defense of the body, complete their maturation: these are called T lymphocytes, since other cells, B cells, complete their maturation in other organs. This body is very active in early childhood before decreasing in size during the second year of life. The thymus may be a site for the development of benign or malignant tumors. Depending on the type of the cells that develop in an abnormal way, there are different types of cancer of the thymus. These tumors are relatively rare.
Thymus cancer can develop for years without ever being detected. It usually causes no particular discomfort as it does not reach a significant volume very quickly. It is only when it is sufficiently large that the tumor will begin to compress the adjacent thoracic organs and cause discomfort. Other symptoms that we can observe are:
- dysphagia, difficulty to swallow due to compression of the esophagus;
- shortness of breath, associated with pressure on the trachea;
- Pain in the upper chest is also possible.
The diagnosis of Thymus cancer usually occurs by chance during a medical examination. During a chest radiograph it is discovered that the thymus gland is abnormal. If the tumor is not detected before becoming large in volume, respiratory or digestive symptoms will alert doctors. Once diagnosed, a doctor will try to pinpoint the tumor and to study it in more detail to determine its size and possible spreading, thanks to a CT scan or MRI. Usually, if cancer is suspected, staging is performed with various tests to see whether nodes or other organs have been invaded by cancer cells. The confirmation of the malignant nature of the tumor will be made by analysis.
The treatment of thymus cancer depends on the stage of the tumor and the results of the staging. Surgery is best if the tumor is not too advanced. It simply involves removing the tumor: this is called resection or thymectomy. It is sometimes necessary to proceed with radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is also possible in advanced forms.
Original article published by
. Translated by Jeff