Thymoma and thymic carcinoma

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2010 Jan;37(1):13-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2009.05.038. Epub 2009 Jul 16.


Thymoma and thymic carcinoma are an extremely heterogeneous group of neoplastic lesions with an exceedingly wide spectrum of morphologic appearances. They show different presentations with a variable and unpredictable evolution ranging from an indolent non-invasive attitude to a highly infiltrative and metastasising one. Prognosis can be predicted on the basis of a number of variables, mainly staging, the WHO histological pattern and diameter of the tumour. Complete surgical resection is certainly the gold standard to achieve cure. However, especially in patients with lesions at advanced stage, complete resection may be difficult and recurrence often occurs; at these stages, disease-free long-term survival may be difficult to be accomplished. Chemo- and radiotherapy protocols have been designed to complete surgical treatment and improve results in inoperable patients as well, based on the reported sensitivity of thymic tumours to these treatment modalities. The integration of clinical staging and histology, with the new histogenetic morphological classification, has contributed to design multimodality treatment protocols that help to improve prognosis. Induction therapy can now be applied before surgery in patients with tumours considered inoperable, improving resectability and outcome without adding morbidity and mortality to the surgical procedure. This newly developed approach helps to reduce the recurrence rate and to ameliorate disease-free survival. New therapies are now being evaluated as for many other tumours; however, they still need confirmation in prospective randomised studies. In the future, integrated treatment modality should be incorporated in a standardised approach that goes from a careful assessment of histology, staging and lymph node status, and a constructive and non-empirical co-operation between medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists and thoracic surgeons.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Thymectomy
  • Thymoma / diagnosis*
  • Thymoma / pathology
  • Thymoma / therapy
  • Thymus Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Thymus Neoplasms / pathology
  • Thymus Neoplasms / therapy