Thymus Cancer can be medically defined as the proliferation of cancer cells, in the thymus gland, an organ in the chest, underneath the chest bone. The thymus gland is chiefly a part of the immune system, that produces lymphocytes, i.e. white blood cells which in turn shield our body from various microbial invasion and other viral threats. Also Read: Oesophageal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Like any other cancer, the exact cause of thymus cancer is yet unknown. They are equally common in men and women alike and generally found in people in their 40’s and 50’s. There are also no evident causative factors that may increase the risk of getting this cancer. Also Read: Lung Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Thymus Cancer comprises two types: Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma.
Quite a rare type of thymus cancer, the thymoma cells usually look like the non-cancerous thymus cells. These thymoma cells grow very slowly and often don’t spread to other parts of the body. In a person suffering from thymoma, the white blood cells often alienate the other healthy tissues and organs and attack them thinking it as an exterior infectious body. People diagnosed with thymoma often have underlying auto-immune diseases like Acquired Pure Red Cell Aplasia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Thyroiditis, Sjogren’s Syndrome or Myasthenia Gravis.
Also termed as the Type C Thymoma, Thymic Carcinoma is a common type of thymus cancer and is also quite chronic. The cells of this type of carcinoma don’t look like the thymus cells and they grow and spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Since, the symptoms are quite negligible, by the time, the cancer is diagnosed it has already reached an advanced stage making it difficult to treat.
Thymus cancer doesn’t portray any signs and symptoms in the earlier stages. It is often found out at an advanced stage during routine chest x-ray or other unrelated medical tests and examinations. The common signs include:
- Persistent cough
- Chest Pain
- Cough along with bloody sputum
- Difficulty in breathing
- Difficulty in swallowing, such as in dysphagia
- Sudden weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Since symptoms are rare in the case of thymus cancer, it is sincerely suggested to undergo a routine physical examination every year to keep your health under check. The doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up to look for any lumps and acknowledges the patient’s past medical history followed by diagnostic tests which include:
- Imaging techniques like MRI-san, PET-scan, CT-scan
- Chest X-ray
- Biopsy of the thymus cells
Staging Of Thymus Cancer
After diagnosing the thymus cancer, the cancerous growth is staged in accordance with the TNM staging system, which is a method of classifying cancer based on its size, extent, and other features.
The cancer cells are found only within the thymus gland, i.e. inside the capsule-like sacs that surround the thymus.
Spread of the cancerous cells outside the capsule, i.e. into the fatty layer surrounding the thymus or into the peritoneal lining of the chest cavity.
In this stage, the malignant cells have already spread to nearby organs like the chest, the outer lining of the heart, or the blood vessels carrying oxygenated blood to the heart, etc.
An advanced stage, where the cancerous cells have spread on to both nearby and distant organs through the lymph ducts.
The treatment options usually depend upon the stage, extent, and severity of cancer. Although removal of the cancerous parts through surgery is the best possible way to treat thymus cancer. But if the cancerous cells are too large, doctors usually reduce the size through radiation and other therapies. The various available treatment options are:
- Radiation Therapy
- Hormone Therapy
- Clinical Trial
- Follow-up Diagnostics