Thymus Cancer Treatment- Cancer/Oncology

What is thymus cancer?

The thymus gland, an organ in chest, is a part of the lymphatic system in body’s immune system. The thymus gland produces white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes help body fight infection. Thymus cancer occurs when cancer cells form on the outside surface of the thymus gland.

There are 2 types of thymus cancer (carcinoma): (1) thymoma cancer and (2) thymic cancer.

What are the treatment options for thymus cancer?

The main treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. A medical oncologist (doctor who treats tumours with chemotherapeutic drugs) will propose the line of treatment for the treatment of pancreatic islet cell tumour. A surgical oncologist (doctor who has specialized in operating on tumours) will perform surgery if required. A Radiation oncologist will be included in the treatment team in case radiation therapy is required.

Surgery: It is important to know if the cancer is completely resectable (removable) with surgery or not. A thymectomy is the most common surgery for thymus tumours that removes the thymus gland including any tumour. During the surgery, an incision is made down the middle of the chest that splits the sternum (breast bone) and the whole thymus and tumour is removed. Additional area which shows spreading of the tumour outside of the thymus may also be removed.

Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation in the form of x-rays or radioactive particles to kill cancerous cells. If the tumour cannot be completely removed by surgery, radiation therapy is used. Even if tumour is not visible, sometimes radiation therapy is used to kill any small areas of cancer that may have been left behind. This is also known as adjuvant therapy. Radiation therapy is also recommended in patients who can’t have surgery. However, it has to be combined with chemotherapy. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is most often used to treat thymic cancer.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy includes use of anti-cancer medicines which are given by mouth, as an injection, or intravenously (IV or into a vein). These medicines enter the bloodstream and reach the whole body. As an adjuvant therapy, chemotherapy may be given after surgery to try to kill cancer cells that were too small to see. As neoadjuvant therapy, in order to remove the tumour completely it may be given before surgery to try to shrink tumours. Chemotherapy is a good option for patients with advanced cancer or for patients who are not healthy enough for surgery.

What to expect after the treatment?

Serious complications may arise after the surgery such as wound infections, excessive bleeding, and pneumonia. Patient’s activity will be limited for first couple of months after surgery. After chemotherapy patient may have side effects such as hair loss, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue etc. After radiation therapy, patient may have side effects such as fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea etc.



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About the Author:

Dr. Anand Lakhkar is a physician scientist from India. He completed his basic medical education from India and his postgraduate training in pharmacology from the United States. He has a MS degree in pharmacology from New York Medical College, a MS degree in Cancer/Neuro Pharmacology from Georgetown University and a PhD in Pharmacology from New York Medical College where he was the recipient of the Graduate Faculty Council Award for academic and research excellence.  His research area of expertise is in pulmonary hypertension, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular pharmacology.  He has multiple publications in international peer-reviewed journals and has presented his research at at prestigious conferences.