Thymomas and thymic carcinomas are rare tumors that form in cells on the outside surface of the thymus. The thymus is a small organ that lies in the upper chest under the breastbone. It is part of the lymph system and makes certain types of white blood cells that help the body fight infection.

The tumor cells in a thymoma look like the normal cells of the thymus, grow slowly, and rarely spread beyond the thymus. The tumor cells in a thymic carcinoma look very different from the normal cells of the thymus. They grow more quickly and have usually spread to other parts of the body when the cancer is found. Thymic carcinoma is harder to treat than thymoma. People with thymoma often also have autoimmune disorders such as myasthenia gravis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Signs & Symptoms

Thymoma and thymic carcinoma may not cause early signs or symptoms. The cancer may be found during a routine chest x-ray. Signs and symptoms may be caused by thymoma, thymic carcinoma, or other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing


There are four types of standard treatment. Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you.

  • Surgery to remove the tumor is the most common treatment of thymoma. Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
  • Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances produced by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working. Hormone therapy with drugs called corticosteroids may be used to treat thymoma or thymic carcinoma.