Thymoma

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What other types of medical conditions are associated with thymoma?

A number of health conditions have been associated with thymoma. Medical conditions that are associated with cancers are known as paraneoplastic syndromes, and up to 50%-60% of patients with thymoma will have one of these related health conditions. The most commonly associated condition with thymoma is myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease of the nerve-muscle junction that can manifest as weakness, fatigue, double vision, ptosis (drooping eyelids), and problems with swallowing.

Other associated conditions include other autoimmune diseases including pure red cell aplasia (underproduction of red blood cells in the bone marrow).

What types of specialists treat thymomas?

Surgeons, including thoracic (chest) surgeons and surgical oncologists, typically treat thymoma. If other treatments are indicated for an aggressive thymoma or thymic carcinoma, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists may be involved in the treatment team.

How do health care professionals diagnose a thymoma?

If a thymoma is not causing symptoms, it is sometimes identified incidentally, meaning it is found on an imaging test of the chest (for example, X-ray, computerized tomography or CT scan) that is performed for another reason. If symptoms are present, chest X-rays or other imaging studies, such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans or the combination of PET and CT scans, are typically carried out to identify the source of the symptoms.

While a mass in the anterior mediastinum can be seen on imaging studies, the definitive diagnosis can only be established when the mass is either removed surgically and examined by a pathologist or when a biopsy (surgical removal of a small portion of tissue for diagnostic purposes) is taken. Microscopic examination of the tumor tissue is necessary to confirm the diagnosis of thymoma or thymic carcinoma. The appearance of the tissue itself under the microscope is classified as type A, B, or C based on its characteristics. Type C thymoma is thymic carcinoma and is quite rare.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/12/2017

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