Thymoma is a rare disease in which malignant, or cancerous, cells form tumors on the outside of the thymus. The thymus makes white blood cells, call lymphocytes, that protect the body against infections. This small organ is located in the upper chest under the breastbone, anterior to the heart and blood vessels.
Thymomas tend to grow slowly in the cells that make up the thymus. Rarely, they spread outside of the thymus, although aggressive thymomas can spread to neighboring organs or to blood vessels or nerves in the chest or the lining of the lung (known as the pleura).
In many cases, thymomas do not cause early signs or symptoms. Often, these tumors are discovered while testing for other conditions or during a routine X-ray. When symptoms are present, they include:
• A cough that does not go away.
• Chest pressure or pain.
• Trouble breathing.
Many people with thymoma also have autoimmune diseases, in which their immune systems attack healthy tissue and organs. Sometimes removing the thymoma, or in some cases even removing a normal thymus, can help relieve the symptoms of these diseases, particularly myasthenia gravis. Autoimmune diseases typically associated with thymoma include:
• Myasthenia gravis.
• Acquired pure red cell aplasia.
• Lupus erythematosus.
• Rheumatoid arthritis.
• Sjögren syndrome.
Removing the tumor through surgery is the most common way to treat thymoma. However, some patients may combine surgery with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Weill Cornell Medicine offers the full range of surgical treatments. Over 90 percent of our procedures are performed minimally invasive. Patients typically experience less scarring, less pain and a shorter hospital stay than when thymomas are removed through a sternotomy or thoracotomy.
Weill Cornell Medicine also offers robotic surgery to treat Thymomas. We are a leader in this approach, which is less invasive and more precise than traditional open surgery. Robotic surgery is usually less painful and leads to less scarring than open surgery. In most cases, patients also experience decreased postoperative complications and shorter hospital stays.
During robotic thymoma surgery, surgeons insert a tiny camera and surgical instruments through small incisions in the chest. The camera enhances surgeons’ vision of the thymoma and of surrounding structures, while the surgical instruments allow them to make more controlled, precise movements.
Weill Cornell Medicine physicians are also scientists focused on finding new and better ways to diagnose and treat diseases. Clinical trials give patients access to the latest scientific advances, including treatments that may not be found anywhere else. We also offer biobanking and specialized molecular testing for some thymomas or thymic cancers.
Visit our department website for more information about clinical trials that may be available.
At Weill Cornell Medicine, patients receive compassionate care from internationally recognized innovators and leaders in the field. Our surgeons have extensive experience with complex thoracic issues. We employ the latest medical and surgical advances.
Weill Cornell Medicine, in partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian – New York’s top hospital for 18 years running, according to U.S. News and World Report – is also a major referral center that draws patients from across the country and around the world.
Our Patient-Centered Approach
Weill Cornell Medicine also employs a patient-centered approach:
• Patients always talk to a live person on the phone, never to voicemail.
• Telemedicine consults are available for patients who live far away.
• We carefully assess your individual situation and collaborate with you to create a personalized care plan.
• We monitor our patients closely after surgery, which is why our surgical outcomes routinely surpass regional and national benchmark statistics for mortality and major complications.
• We are judicious in the choice of tests and procedures we choose for you. We are consistently aware of the need to contain healthcare costs.
Schedule an appointment with one of our physicians today or contact us to learn more about our approach to cancer care.