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Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma - Child

To view this article in the new Rare Cancers Australia Knowledgebase, click here 

Definition of thymoma:

A tumor of the thymus, an organ that is part of the lymphatic system and is located in the chest, behind the breastbone. 

Definition of thymic carcinoma:

A rare type of thymus gland cancer. It usually spreads, has a high risk of recurrence, and has a poor survival rate. Thymic carcinoma is divided into subtypes, depending on the types of cells in which the cancer began. Also called type C thymoma.

Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma

Thymomas and thymic carcinomas are tumors of the cells that cover the outside surface of the thymus. The thymus is a small organ in the upper chest under the breastbone. It is part of the lymph system and makes white blood cells, called lymphocytes, that help fight infection. Thymomas and thymic carcinomas usually form in the front part of the chest and are often found during a chest x-ray that is done for another reason.

Anatomy of the thymus gland; drawing shows the thymus gland in the upper chest under the breastbone. Also shown are the ribs, lungs, and heart.

Anatomy of the thymus gland. The thymus gland is a small organ that lies in the upper chest under the breastbone. It makes white blood cells, called lymphocytes, which protect the body against infections.

Thymoma and thymic carcinoma are slow-growing cancers that may spread to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Diagnostic and Staging Tests

People who develop thymomas often have one of the following immune system diseases or hormone disorders:

  • Myasthenia gravis.
  • Polymyositis.
  • Lupus.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Thyroiditis.
  • Isaac syndrome.
  • Pure red cell aplasia.
  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Addison disease.
  • Panhypopituitarism.

Thymoma and thymic carcinoma may cause any of the following symptoms. Check with your child’s doctor if you see any of the following problems in your child:

  • Coughing.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Pain or a tight feeling in the chest.
  • Trouble breathing.

Other conditions that are not thymoma and thymic carcinoma may cause these same symptoms.

Tests to diagnose and stage thymoma and thymic carcinoma may include the following:

  • Physical exam and history.
  • X-ray of the chest.
  • CT scan.
  • PET scan.
  • MRI.
  • Biopsy.


The prognosis (chance of recovery) is better when the tumor has not spread.


Treatment for thymomas and thymic carcinoma in children may include the following:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, followed by radiation therapy for tumors that have spread.
  • Chemotherapy.

For more information on Childhood Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma click here

This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.

For information about clinical trials that are available in Australia click here

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