Thymus cancer

Thymus cancer is a cancer of the thymus, a gland in the middle of the chest. Thymic tumors are rare and tend to grow slowly. Approximately 30 to 70 people in the Netherlands are diagnosed with Thymus cancer every year. The tumor is slightly more common in men than in women.

There are three distinctive tumor types that can develop in the thymus: 

  • Thymomas (the largest group, usually grow slowly and are rarely metastatic);
  • Thymic carcinomas (tend to grow faster than thymomas, often metastatic);
  • Thymic carcinoma (slow growth).

All patients respond very differently to the treatment options, which makes it hard to come up with a good plan beforehand. This is why it is essential to treat thymus cancer at a center of expertise. The Netherlands Cancer Institute is one of these centers. Patients throughout the country are referred to the NKI for their treatment. The multidisciplinary team of our NKI Lung Cancer Center joins together in team meetings to discuss which steps are essential and what treatment will get the best results.

Find out more about the causes and symptoms, and the most commonly used diagnostic tests and treatment types for thymic tumors on this page.

Causes and symptoms thymus cancer

Many thymic tumors behind the sternum are coincidentally discovered. Some patients present with a feeling of pressure, or coughing. Because thymic tumors grow slowly, these symptoms may gradually worsen and last for a long time. 30% of patients initially experience muscle weakness when active, or droopy eyelids over the course of the day. These symptoms are part of a specific syndrome called Myasthenia Gravis. A neurologist refers these patients to a pulmonary specialist for further testing.

If the tumors develops into the tissue surrounding the thymus, one or more of the following symptoms may occur:
• shortness of breath;
• upper respiratory infection;
• fatigue;
• weight loss;
• pneumonia.


Om de diagnose thymuskanker te kunnen stellen, worden de volgende onderzoeken verricht:

Treatment options

Your exact treatment options will depend on the tumor type and stage. Our aim is to surgically remove the tumor, but if this is not an option due to its size, or the overall health and shape of the patient, we can consider whether radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a different treatment type might be an option for you. We will inform you about the process beforehand, and you will have plenty of time to ask questions. Your treatment will most likely consist of one or more of the following treatments:

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