Stage III thymoma: pattern of failure after surgery and postoperative radiotherapy and its implication for future study

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2000 Mar 1;46(4):927-33. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(99)00514-3.


Purpose: With the conventional approach of surgery and postoperative radiotherapy for patients with Masaoka Stage III thymoma, progress has been slow for an improvement in the long-term survival rate over the past 20 years. The objective of this study was to evaluate the pattern of failure and survival after surgery and postoperative radiotherapy in Stage III thymoma and search for a new direction for better therapy outcome.

Methods and materials: Between 1975 and 1993, 111 patients with thymoma were treated at Massachusetts General Hospital. Of these, 32 patients were determined to have Masaoka Stage III thymoma. The initial treatment included surgery for clinically resectable disease in 25 patients and preoperative therapy for unresectable disease in 7 patients. Surgical procedure consisted of thymectomy plus resection of involved tissues. For postoperative radiotherapy (n = 23), radiation dose consisted of 45-50 Gy for close resection margins, 54 Gy for microscopically positive resection margins, and 60 Gy for grossly positive margins administered in 1.8 to 2.0 Gy of daily dose fractions, 5 fractions a week, over a period of 5 to 6.6 weeks. In preoperative radiotherapy, a dose of 40 Gy was administered in 2.0 Gy of daily dose fractions, 5 days a week. For patients with large tumor requiring more than 30% of total lung volume included in the target volume (n = 3), a preoperative radiation dose of 30 Gy was administered and an additional dose of 24-30 Gy was given to the tumor bed region after surgery for positive resection margins.

Results: Patients with Stage III thymoma accounted for 29% (32/111 patients) of all patients. The median age was 57 years with a range from 27 to 81 years; gender ratio was 10:22 for male to female. The median follow-up time was 6 years. Histologic subtypes included well-differentiated thymic carcinoma in 19 (59%), high-grade carcinoma in 6 (19%), organoid thymoma in 4 (13%), and cortical thymoma in 3 (9%) according to the Marino and Müller-Hermelink classification. The overall survival rates were 71% and 54% at 5 and 10 years, respectively. Ten of the 25 patients who were subjected to surgery as initial treatment were found to have incomplete resection by histopathologic evaluation. The 5- and 10-year survival rates were 86% and 69% for patients (n = 15) with clear resection margins as compared with 28% and 14% for those (n = 10) with incomplete resection margins even after postoperative therapy, p = 0.002. Survival rates at 5 and 10 years were 100% and 67% for those with unresectable disease treated with preoperative radiation (n = 6) and subsequent surgery (n = 3). Recurrence was noted in 12 of 32 patients and 11 of these died of recurrent thymoma. Recurrences at pleura and tumor bed accounted for 77% of all relapses, and all pleural recurrences were observed among the patients who were treated with surgery initially.

Conclusion: Incomplete resection leads to poor results even with postoperative radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy in Stage III thymoma. Pleural recurrence is also observed more often among patients treated with surgery first. These findings suggest that preoperative radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy may result in an increase in survival by improving the rate of complete resection and reducing local and pleural recurrences.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thymoma / mortality
  • Thymoma / radiotherapy*
  • Thymoma / surgery*
  • Thymus Neoplasms / mortality
  • Thymus Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Thymus Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Treatment Failure