About Thymus CancerThe thymus gland is a small organ located just behind the breast bone (sternum) in the front part of the chest. It sits just above the heart. The thymus produces white blood cells called T lymphocytes. These are part of the body’s immune system and help fight diseases and infections. Thymus cancer is very rare. For every 1 million people, approximately 1.5 cases of thymus cancer occur.
Types of Thymus CancerThe two most common types of thymus cancer are thymoma and thymic carcinoma. Thymic carcinoma is more aggressive and difficult to treat than thymoma. It should also be noted that there are several different cells that make up the thymus, Each cell type is vulnerable to a specific type of cancer:
- Epithelial cells from the majority of the thymus. These cells are prone to thymic carcinomas, which is one of the most common forms of thymus cancer.
- Lymphocytes are a type of cell that form the rest of the thymus. When cancer occurs in lymphocytes, it is usually referred to as Hodgkins Lymphoma.
- Neuroendocrine cells are also present in the thymus. These cells are susceptible to carcinoid tumours.
Causes and Risk Factors for Thymus Cancer:A risk factor is something that can increase the likelihood of thymus cancer occurring. Risk factors do not guarantee that you will be affected by the disease, and some people with no risk factors will contract the disease anyway. Below are some of the most common risk factors associated with thymus cancer:
- Age – As you age, the risk of thymus cancer increases. Thymus cancer is very uncommon in children and young adults. It is most common in people aged over 70 years old.
- Ethnicity – It appears that thymus cancer is most common in people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. The reason for this is not known.
- Exposure to radiation – Several studies have suggested that there is a link between radiation exposure to the chest and increased risk of thymus cancer.
Symptoms of Thymus Cancer:Early diagnosis is crucial to the treatment of your cancer. For this reason, it is important to see a doctor if you begin to notice symptoms. Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with thymus cancer:
- Shortness of breath – A thymic tumour can cause you to have difficulty breathing. This may also be accompanied by difficulty swallowing.
- Loss of appetite – Thymus cancer can cause a loss of appetite. This is usually accompanied by weight loss.
- Coughing – You may experience a cough that won’t go away. Sometimes, coughing may bring up blood.
- Chest pain – A thymic tumour can cause persistent pain in the upper chest.
Treatments for Thymus CancerThere are several available treatments for thymus cancer. The availability of these treatments depends on the nature, stage and location of a patient’s thymus cancer. Each treatment has its own advantages and disadvantages. For this reason it is important to review all treatment options and discuss them with your doctor. Below are some of the most common treatments for thymus cancer: Surgery Surgery is the most common treatment for thymus cancer. During surgery, surgeons will attempt to remove the tumour from your thymus gland. In a lot of cases, the thymus gland will completely be removed in order to prevent the spread of cancer. This is called a thymectomy. The surgeon may also have to remove cancer that has spread to areas outside of the thymus. This could mean that the removal of lung tissue or heart tissue is necessary. Sometimes, doctors will suggest surgery even when the tumour is not fully removable. In this case, the surgeons will remove as much as the tumour as possible, then use an alternate method such as radiation therapy to remove the remains. In some cases, the tumour will be inoperable. This happens when the cancer has developed in a way that is difficult and risky to remove via surgery. In this case, your doctor will recommend another method of treatment for thymus cancer. Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radioactive particles to target and destroy cancer cells. It is often used pre-surgery, or post-surgery to shrink a tumour. It can also be used as an alternative to surgery for inoperable tumours. For thymus cancer, the most common form of radiation therapy is called external beam therapy. This is when a machine uses targeted x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Before radiation therapy begins, doctors will take precise measurements to ensure that the right area is being targeted. This will reduce side effects and improve the effectiveness of the treatment. Radiation therapy does come with side effects. Common side effects of radiation therapy include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Irritated or red skin around the targeted area.
- Reduced appetite and weight loss.
- Extreme fatigue and weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of weight and appetite
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores