Thymus cancer

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Treatments for thymus cancer

If you have thymus cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for thymus cancer, your healthcare team will consider:

  • type of thymus cancer
  • stage
  • your overall health
  • what you prefer or want

You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for thymus cancer.


A total thymectomy to completely remove the thymus is offered to most people with thymus cancer. Any cancer that has grown into tissue around the thymus is removed at the same time. For early stages of thymus cancer, it may be the only treatment needed. A total thymectomy can also be done before or after other treatments.

Debulking surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible may be used for some cases of advanced thymus cancer. It mainly helps reduce symptoms caused by growth of the cancer. Research hasn’t shown that it improves survival.

Radiation therapy

External radiation therapy may be used after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back (recurring) or before surgery to shrink the tumour. It may also be used as a main treatment if surgery can’t be done. Sometimes radiation therapy is given at the same time as chemotherapy. This is called chemoradiation.

Chemotherapy and other drugs

Chemotherapy and other drugs are mainly used for advanced or metastatic thymic carcinoma that has spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy combinations may be used before surgery to shrink the cancer (induction chemotherapy) or when surgery can’t be done. Sometimes chemotherapy is given at the same time as radiation therapy (called chemoradiation).

Octreotide (Sandostatin) is a drug that may be used to control the growth of recurrent and advanced thymoma.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, sometimes for at least 10 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

Talk to your doctor about clinical trials open to people with thymus cancer in Canada. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.

external radiation therapy

A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine outside the body to direct a beam of radiation through the skin to a specific part of the body, usually a tumour.

Also called external beam radiation therapy.