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Treatment Options for Thymoma and Thymic Cancer

Patient Perspective:
Thymus Cancer Clinical Trial


The most common surgery for thymus tumors is complete removal of the thymus (including any tumor), called a thymectomy.

In some cases, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be administered before surgery to try to shrink the tumor so that it can be more easily removed completely.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation in the form of x-rays or radioactive particles to kill cancer cells.

The type of radiation therapy used most often to treat thymic cancer is external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). This type of radiation therapy uses x-rays from a machine outside the patient's body to kill cancer cells. Radiation for thymic malignancies is more often delivered after surgery than before, and it is generally only given for tumors beyond Masaoka stage I.


Chemotherapy is the administration of anti-cancer drugs that are given intravenously (into a vein) or taken by mouth. These drugs enter the bloodstream and reach throughout the body, making this treatment especially useful for cancer that may have spread to organs beyond the thymus. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells.

Chemotherapy may be used alone for some types of thymic tumors, or in combination with other treatments such as radiation or surgery.  Chemotherapy is most commonly given to treat thymic tumors when the tumor has spread beyond the mediastinum and therefore is not a candidate for “local” treatments like surgery or radiation. For thymoma confined to the mediastinum, chemotherapy is rarely administered unless the tumor is dramatically located in surrounding structures, in which case it may be given either before surgery or after surgery.  For thymic carcinoma, it is more common to give chemotherapy (with or without radiation therapy) prior to surgery.

Multiple chemotherapy drugs are often given in combination to try to increase their effectiveness. For example, a combination commonly used to treat thymic cancer includes cisplatin, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy may also help some people with advanced thymoma. These medications work by attaching to the thymoma cells and causing them to stop growing, or die.

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