How thymoma is treated depends on whether it has spread and its stage, but patients typically undergo one or more of the following:
- Surgery. Removing the tumor is the most common treatment for thymoma. In early stages, when cancer cells haven't spread beyond the thymus, surgery may be all that's needed.
- Radiation therapy. Also called radiotherapy, this involves using high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is restricted to a limited area and affects the cancer cells only in that area. It may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the treated area.
- Chemotherapy. This is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is typically used for thymomas that have spread beyond the thymus. The drugs may be delivered orally (as pills) or directly into the circulation (through an IV injection or catheter).
- Hormone therapy. This can slow the growth of cancer cells by removing or blocking the activity of hormones. In later stages of thymoma, corticosteroids may be used to limit the cancer's spread.
- Targeted therapy. Drugs or other substances are used to pinpoint and attack specific types of cancer cells (for instance, the therapy may block molecules that stimulate tumor growth). Your doctor may run tests to determine the genetic or molecular makeup of your tumor – information that can guide treatment choices. Targeted therapies tend to cause less damage to healthy cells than does chemotherapy or radiation.
- Immunotherapy. This treatment leverages the patient's own immune system to treat thymoma. Substances are used to mobilize the body's natural defenses to kill cancer cells or prevent them from spreading.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.