Therapeutic options in thymomas and thymic carcinomas

Expert Rev Anticancer Ther. 2022 Apr;22(4):401-413. doi: 10.1080/14737140.2022.2052278. Epub 2022 Apr 4.


Introduction: Curative-intent surgery is the best therapeutic option for thymic malignancies. However, patients with advanced or recurrent thymic malignancies often require palliative-intent chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Since thymic malignancies are rare cancers, the efficacy and safety of treatments have been verified based on small Phase 2 trials or retrospective studies.

Area covered: We comprehensively reviewed the treatment strategies for thymic malignancies, including surgery, radiotherapy, and pharmacotherapy, including cytotoxic chemotherapy, molecular-targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Additionally, we reviewed specific situations, such as pleural dissemination, central nervous system metastasis, and paraneoplastic syndrome.

Expert opinion: Cytotoxic chemotherapy remains the standard option in pharmacotherapy. However, multikinase inhibitors, such as sunitinib and lenvatinib, and immune checkpoint inhibitors including pembrolizumab have been developed to treat thymic carcinomas. Now, a Phase 2 study is evaluating whether lenvatinib plus pembrolizumab benefits patients with type B3 thymoma or thymic carcinoma. Phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitors may contribute to disease control and octreotide scan is only applicable to somatostatin analogues. Although the genomic characteristics of thymic malignancies have been analyzed, few actionable mutations have been detected in general. The development of a treatment strategy using combination pharmacotherapy is anticipated.

Keywords: chemotherapy; immune checkpoint inhibitor; molecular targeted agent; radiotherapy; surgery; thymic carcinoma; thymic epithelial tumors; thymic neuroendocrine tumors; thymoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma* / pathology
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thymoma* / pathology
  • Thymoma* / surgery
  • Thymus Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Thymus Neoplasms* / therapy