Immunotherapy for thymoma

J Thorac Dis. 2020 Dec;12(12):7635-7641. doi: 10.21037/jtd-2019-thym-12.


Thymic epithelial tumors (TETs) are rare thymic neoplasms. There are approximately 1.5 cases per million TETs per year. They are the most common anterior mediastinal tumors in adults. Due to limited activity of available treatment options novel strategies and treatment options are needed and treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors is an attractive option. Thymic epithelial tumors have one of the lowest tumor mutational burden among all cancer in adults, but high expression of PD-L1 on tumor cells and abundant CD8+ lymphocytes provide a strong rational for implementing immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) which target PD-1/PD-L1 pathway in the treatment of TETs. Few small early stage clinical trials were published so far evaluating efficacy of pembrolizumab and avelumab in thymoma and thymic carcinoma patients. Al trials showed reasonable response rates and progression-free survival. Higher PD-L1 expression was predictor of response in all trials. However, increased incidence of immune-related adverse events was seen in TET patients treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors compared to patients with other cancers. At the moment, ICIs are not standard of care for patients with TET and larger trials are needed to establish the right role of ICIs regarding efficacy and safety of these agents.

Keywords: Thymic epithelial tumor (TET); immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs); immune-related adverse events; thymic cancer; thymoma.

Publication types

  • Review