About Thymus Cancer
The 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 Cancer
The 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 Cancer
There 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 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 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.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs (administered orally or intravenously) to weaken or destroy cancer cells. Similar to radiation therapy, chemotherapy is often given as a follow-up to surgery so that remission is unlikely. It can also be given as an alternative to surgery when a tumour is inoperable.
Doctors administer chemotherapy in cycles, where each session of treatment is followed by a rest period so that the body can recover. The type of drugs administered for thymus cancer vary depending on the severity, location and type of cancer.
Chemotherapy does come with strong side effects. These include:
- Extreme fatigue and weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of weight and appetite
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
What support can we give for thymus cancer?
Thymus cancer is a rare cancer, meaning it is not as well known as other forms of cancer. Without a Ribbon is an Australian organisation that provides support for individuals who suffer from rare cancers. We provide a designated platform for Warriors to obtain information specific to their Rare Cancer. We also provide annual opportunities for our Warriors to meet and learn from each other.
If you suffer from a rare cancer such as thymus cancer, we can help and support you through your journey thanks to the generous donations we receive. Click the link below to sign up and become a Warrior today!
You can help us with your donation:
Without a Ribbon is a charity that works hard to aid those who suffer from rare cancers. You can help our cause in a variety of ways:
Donations – Without a Ribbon is grateful for every donation received. Giving to Without a Ribbon helps us to provide ongoing support, organise the annual gathering and subsidise the costs of our Warriors attending these conferences.
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