Thymoma Screening and Diagnosis

Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean you can’t get a fast, accurate diagnosis.

Thymoma tumors affect the thymus gland, an organ that sits in front of the heart and behind the breastbone. The thymus produces T cells, a type of white blood cell, during childhood. The gland normally grows to weigh up to 1 ounce at puberty. During adulthood, it gets smaller, and fat tissue replaces the gland’s cells.

Because thymoma is a rare cancer, not every physician is familiar with it. The thoracic cancer team at Henry Ford Health System diagnoses and treats even the most complex, uncommon cancers, like thymoma.

We offer a full range of diagnostic tests to diagnose and treat thymoma quickly and accurately.

How is thymoma diagnosed?

Doctors often discover thymoma after diagnosing certain autoimmune disorders associated with thymoma or by chance, from another test. These conditions may include myasthenia gravis (a condition that causes muscle weakness), red cell aplasia (a bone marrow disorder that results in fewer red blood cells being produced) or hypogammaglobulinemia (a reduction in antibodies that fight disease).

If we suspect thymoma, we will order one or more of the following tests:

  • Imaging tests: Tests that take pictures inside the body can help doctors learn more about a tumor’s size and shape. Imaging for suspected thymoma may include:
    • Chest X-rays to take pictures of bones and internal organs
    • Computed tomography (CT) to measure a tumor’s size
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which use a small amount of radioactive material to highlight any cancer cells
    • An octreotide scan, a specialized test that shows cancer cells that come from the neuroendocrine system, including the thymus gland
  • Surgery: If doctors need more information to confirm a thymoma diagnosis, they may recommend surgery. During the surgery, they may be able to confirm and treat thymus cancer at the same time. For some people who have small tumors, our surgeons offer minimally invasive surgery to remove the thymus and surrounding tissues. We typically perform these surgeries using small incisions and robotic assistance instead of the traditional approach through the breast bone (sternotomy). Learn more about cancer surgery at Henry Ford.
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