Thymus is a tiny organ situated just behind the sternum in the frontal part of the chest. It is located in the space between the lungs called mediastinum, along with the heart, the esophagus, part of aorta and various lymph nodes. Also, it is divided into two parts known as lobes, and has three main layers, namely the medulla, the cortex and the capsule. Thymus has different types of cells which can develop into various carcinomas.
- Epithelial cells : The function of these cells is to provide shape and structure to the thymus. Cancers like thymomas and thymic carcinomas develop from these type of cells.
- Lymphocytes : Lymphocytes are responsible for making up the rest of the thymus. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin disease are two carcinomas that develop from these immune system cells.
- Kulchitsky cells : Also known as neuroendocrine cells, the major purpose of these cells is hormone secretion. These are some uncommon cells which develop into cancers known as carcinoid tumors.
Symptoms of thymus cancer
Some major signs and symptoms of such carcinomas include :
- Cough accompanied by blood sputum
- Chest pain
- Trouble in swallowing food.
- Loss of appetite and undesired weight loss.
- Dizziness and nausea
Diagnosis of thymus cancer
Diagnosis of thymus cancers generally involve some of the following procedures :
Imaging tests for the diagnosis of thymus carcinomas generally use X-rays, sound waves or magnetic field concepts to generate images of the inside of our body. Imaging tests include PET (positron emission tomography) scan, CT (computed tomography) scan, Bone scan and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. Imaging tests may be done for a number of reasons, like to locate the cancer affected area or to know the extent to which the cancer has spread.
Although blood tests cannot be done directly for the diagnosis of thymus cancer, it can still prove to be helpful in certain situations. And if thymus cancer is found, blood cell counts and other blood tests should be done to estimate the overall health of the patient before performing a surgery.
Even at times when imaging tests and symptoms suggest the presence of a thymus cancer, doctors need to look at the tumor tissue first for confirming. In cases of thymus carcinomas, doctors usually remove the entire tissue rather than performing a biopsy. And if the tumor is not removable completely, biopsy may be done.
- Needle biopsy : A lengthy but hollow needle is passed through the skin in the patient's chest. Imaging tests are used to guide the needle into the tissues so that a small sample can be removed and observed under the microscope.
- Surgical biopsy :This type of diagnosis is used to determine the extent of abnormality in the tissue.