Thymus cancer

Sunday 31 July, 2011

Reviewed by: Annie Angle, Cancer Nurse, Dip. Oncology Nursing, Royal Marsden, London


What is thymus cancer?

Thymus cancer, also known as thymoma, is cancer that begins in the thymus. The thymus is a small organ in the top of the chest. It produces cells that are important for protecting the body from invaders like fungi and bacteria.

How common is thymus cancer?

Thymus cancer is very rare, affecting fewer than 20 people in Victoria each year.

Causes of thymus cancer

It is not known what causes thymus cancer. In some families, it affects several generations, suggesting that there is an inherited gene change that can increase the risk of this cancer.

Signs and symptoms of thymus cancer

Often there are no symptoms at first. Sometimes a person develops an autoimmune disorder (where the immune system destroys or attacks the body's own tissue), such as a condition that causes serious muscle weakness. A tumour may press on the windpipe, causing shortness of breath, or put pressure on veins, causing the face to swell.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. They may be due to another cause, but it is best to have a doctor check them.

Diagnosis and treatment

The Macmillan Cancer Support website has more detailed information about diagnosis and treatment of thymus cancer.

Further information

Being given a diagnosis of thymus cancer can be very upsetting. Your doctor will explain your cancer and its treatment to you. You can also call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 and speak with a cancer nurse. We can provide information and tell you about support services for people with cancer and their families and friends.

Updated: 31 Jul, 2011