What are the results of thymectomy?

The goal of a thymectomy is to remove the source of abnormal antibody production causing the disease thus leading to resolution of symptoms. The benefits of thymectomy are not realized immediately after surgery, thus patients will continue with there medical regimen after the procedure with the goal of weaning those medications over time.Individual response to thymectomy varies depending on the patient’s age, response to prior medical therapy, the severity of the disease and how long the patient has had myasthenia gravis. In general, 70 percent of patients have complete remission or significant reduction in medication needs within a year of the procedure. The other 30 percent of patients who have thymectomy experience no change in their symptoms. According to the American Association of Neurologists, patients who have thymectomy are two times as likely to experience remission as those who have medical treatment alone.

How does a doctor determine which patients with myasthenia gravis should undergo thymectomy?

Thymectomy is recommended for all patients with thymomas and for patients under 60 who have mild to moderate muscle weakness due to myasthenia gravis. Thymectomy generally is not used for treating patients with myasthenia gravis that affects only their eyes.Thymectomy appears to be most effective when it is performed six to 12 months after the onset of symptoms. It is important to talk to your doctor early in your diagnosis about thymectomy as an option for treatment.

How is thymectomy performed?

Thymectomy can be performed by several different surgical techniques:

Transsternal thymectomy: In this procedure, the incision is made in the skin over the breastbone (sternum), and the breastbone is divided (sternotomy) to expose the thymus. This approach is commonly used for heart surgery. The surgeon removes the thymus through this incision as well as any residual fat in the center of the chest which may harbor extra thymic cells. This approach is commonly used when the patient has a thymoma.

Transcervical thymectomy: In this procedure the incision is made across the lower part of the neck, just above the breastbone(sternum). The surgeon removes the thymus through this incision without dividing the sternum. This is mostly used in patients without thymoma with certain body-types.

Robotic thymectomy and Video-assisted thorascopic thymectomy (VATS): These Minimally invasive techniques use several tiny incisions in the chest. A camera is inserted through one of the incisions and the surgery is performed with video guidance. The surgeon removes the thymus by using special surgical tools inserted into the other incisions. In a robotic-assisted procedure, the surgeon uses robotic arms to perform the surgery. The goal is to provide the same result as the more invasive transsternal approach with less post-operative discomfort and a quicker recovery.

What type of thymectomy is the best for me?

The transsternal thymectomy is the most commonly performed procedure, however there are no proven differences in outcomes with less invasive approaches. Your neurologist and surgeon will guide you in making a decision about the type of thymectomy you should have. Your surgeon will make a recommendation based on whether a thymoma is present and other factors related to your history and anatomy.There currently is no scientific evidence that proves one type of thymectomy is better than the other in terms of outcomes. To make the best decision for yourself, you should be informed about the different types of thymectomy and consult with your neurologist and surgeon. You also may want to seek a second opinion.

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