Thymus cancer, or thymoma, is a type of cancer that begins in the thymus, an organ found at the top of the chest area. The thymus has an important immune-related function, and helps to protect the body against alien bodies by producing white blood cells. Thymus cancer is an extremely rare type of cancer, and affects very few people each year. While little is known about the causes of thymoma or thymus cancer, research indicates that there may be a strong genetic component, as some families find that thymus cancer affects several generations of their family.
Thymus cancer first presents itself when the normal cells in the thymus start to mutate. These mutations develop into a tumour that may be benign or that may be cancerous. Thymus cancer can develop in two different ways: as an epitheilial cancer, or as a lymphoma cancer. Epithelial cancer refers to cancers that develop on the surface of an area of the body, such as the wall of the thymus, while lymphomas can spread into the lymph system. There is a third type of thymus cancer, although extremely rare: this type of cancer is called a carcinoid tumour.
Unlike some times of aggressive cancers, thymus cancer tends to be fairly slow-growing. In addition, it tends not to metastasise beyond the thymus, although it does occasional spread to the lungs. Carcinoid tumours are more likely to spread, and can be difficult to treat.
A condition that tends to co-occur with thymus cancer is that of myasthenia gravis. This condition is an auto-immune disorder that involves the various protective cells of the body attacking itself. This can result in muscle-related difficulties, and also difficulties in breathing and swallowing. Many people who suffer from thymus cancer may also suffer from a series of syndromes that affect red blood cell count.
Thymus cancer is difficult to detect and is often only found as part of a screening procedure for another condition. In addition, many thymus cancer sufferers do not display any symptoms other than those mentioned earlier. The most common type of treatment for early thymus cancer is surgery, but chemotherapy is also used to help treat thymus cancer. It is possible that some alternative treatments may help to slow the development of thymus cancer and may improve the cancer patient’s quality of life.