Thymus Cancer: Treatment Choices

There are many treatment choices for a thymus tumor. The ones that are best for you depends on things like:

  • The type of cancer

  • The size of the tumor and where it is in your body

  • Extent of the cancer, also called the stage of the tumor

  • Your age

  • Your overall health

  • Your personal concerns and preferences, like what side effects you’ll find acceptable

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel, how your body will work after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. They can explain what your treatment choices are, how well treatment is expected to work, and what the risks and side effects may be.

Your healthcare provider may suggest a certain treatment. Or they may offer more than 1, and ask you to decide which you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It’s important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get a second opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. Your provider can help you with this. You may also want to involve your partner, spouse, family, or friends in this process.

Understanding the goals of treatment for a thymus tumor

In many cases, the goal of treatment is to cure a thymus tumor. If cure isn't possible, treatment may be used to shrink the tumor or keep it under control for as long as possible. Treatment can also improve your quality of life by helping control symptoms caused by the cancer. The goals of treatment can be 1 or more of these things:

  • Remove the tumor in your thymus

  • Remove or destroy tumors in other parts of your body

  • Kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and spreading

  • Keep the cancer from coming back or delay its return

  • Ease symptoms caused by the cancer, such as pain or pressure on your organs

Each type of treatment has a different goal. Talk to your provider about your treatment goals so you know what to expect.

Types of treatment for a thymus tumor

Here's a list of common treatments used for a thymus tumor. Different combinations of treatment may be used, too.

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for a thymus tumor. The goal of surgery is to take out the tumor along with an edge (margin) of healthy tissue around it. In almost all cases, your healthcare provider removes the whole thymus. This is called a thymectomy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation uses strong beams of energy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This treatment is most often used to kill any cancer cells that may be left after surgery. Radiation can also be used before surgery to try to shrink the tumor. This can make it easier to remove without damaging nearby healthy tissues. Or it can be used as part of the main treatment in people who can't have surgery for some reason. Radiation might be given along with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of strong medicines to kill cancer cells. It can also help reduce the chance that the cancer will spread to other parts of your body. Chemo can be given either before, after, or in place of surgery. It's most often used to treat thymus cancer that has spread to other parts of your body.

Targeted therapy

This treatment uses medicines that target certain parts of cancer cells. For example, some of these medicines can target the cancer cells' ability to make new blood vessels. A tumor needs nutrients in blood to keep growing. Blocking this "starves" the tumor so cancer cell growth slows or stops. Other targeted therapies can be used to block signals or proteins that help cancer cells grow.

Supportive care

Your healthcare provider may suggest treatments that help ease your symptoms, but don’t treat the cancer. For instance, radiation might be used to shrink a tumor that's causing swallowing or breathing problems. Supportive care is often used along with other treatments, such as treating nausea while getting chemo.

Your healthcare provider might suggest you get only supportive care if they believe that other treatments are more likely to do you more harm than good.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers are always looking for new ways to treat thymus tumors. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Taking part in a clinical trial means you get the best treatment available today, and you might also get new treatments that are thought to be even better. Before starting treatment, talk with your healthcare provider to find out if there are any clinical trials you should think about.

Talking with your healthcare provider

At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk with your healthcare providers and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
© 2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.