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So, what’s the thymus? And why does mine have cancer?

Chances are, these may be among the first questions you have when you learn you may have thymic carcinoma. This rare cancer affects a tiny gland (thymus) sitting behind your breastbone. It plays a big role in making infection-fighting white blood cells (T-cells). When you get the news you may have this cancer, finding the right experts — ones with a playbook for diagnosing and treating it — is a top priority.

At Cleveland Clinic, we have a team of healthcare providers dedicated to treating thymic cancer and other cancers many providers have only heard about. And even if you’ve been told elsewhere that you’re out of treatment options, we’ll work to find the answers and treatment you need.

Why Choose Cleveland Clinic for Thymic Carcinoma Care?

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Collaborative care:

Thymus cancer treatment requires the combined expertise of different types of healthcare providers from many specialties. They work as a team to confirm a diagnosis, plan your treatment and support you every step of the way.

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Patient-centered care:

Our top priority is helping you have the best possible quality of life. This not only means treating your cancer but also supporting you mentally and emotionally. We can help you find support groups and get mental health counseling, art therapy, music therapy and more.

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Trusted experts:

We’re home to board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists who are leaders in their fields. They continually do research, publish their findings and help shape treatment guidelines for cancer centers throughout the world. Meet our team.

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Virtual visits:

Cancer treatments can take a lot out of you. And sometimes getting to your provider’s office for an appointment might be the last thing you want to do. If you don’t feel up to an in-person visit, you might want to think about a virtual one. Virtual visits let you meet with your providers online, from the comfort and convenience of home. All you need is an internet connection and a smartphone, computer or tablet.

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National recognition:

Cleveland Clinic is a trusted healthcare leader. We're recognized in the U.S. and throughout the world for our expertise and care.

Diagnosing Thymic Carcinoma at Cleveland Clinic

Often, the first signs of thymic carcinoma are chest pain, a cough that won’t go away and shortness of breath. Maybe you’ve already gone to your primary care provider (PCP) to see if you have a heart problem. But the tests they ordered pointed to something else — thymic cancer.

It’s important to understand there are two kinds of thymic cancer — thymic carcinoma and thymoma. Both are rare cancers that affect your thymus gland. But thymic carcinoma is much more aggressive. It’s more likely to spread (metastasize) beyond your thymus, requiring a different treatment from thymoma.

So, it’s important to get a diagnosis from a team with experience with both kinds of thymic tumors. Whether your PCP referred you to us, or you picked up the phone and made an appointment yourself, we’re here to help you take the next step.

What to expect at your first visit

When you first meet with your provider, they’ll spend some time getting to know you. The best way to do this is to sit down with each other and talk. Your provider will answer your questions and listen to your concerns. And they’ll want you to share your story, asking questions like:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Have your symptoms gotten worse?
  • How have your symptoms been affecting you?
  • Do you have any other health conditions?
  • Is there a family history of cancer?

During your visit, your provider will do a physical exam. And they’ll order tests to help them learn more about what’s happening. Tests let them confirm a diagnosis and know whether it’s a thymic carcinoma or thymoma. And they help them see where the tumor is, how big it is and if it’s spread (cancer staging). Tests you may have include:

Second opinions for thymic carcinoma

A cancer diagnosis can be a real shock. And it can leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. So, you’ll want to be sure you’ve chosen the right care team — one that’ll listen to your concerns, answer your questions and give you the best possible care. That’s why we encourage second opinions.

We’re here for you. We take the time to explain treatment options and offer our expertise. And because we know that cancer doesn’t wait, we always try to schedule your appointment with us as soon as possible. A second opinion can give you peace of mind, knowing that you’re in the most capable, compassionate hands.

Meet Our Thymic Carcinoma Team

Cleveland Clinic’s team-based approach to care means you get the most personalized treatment possible. Depending on your specific needs, you’ll see providers from different specialties — all picked based on your unique diagnosis. Your team may include:


Our healthcare providers see patients at convenient locations throughout Northeast Ohio and Florida.

Treating Thymic Carcinoma at Cleveland Clinic

Many things play a part in how we create your personalized treatment plan — the cancer’s stage, if it’s new or has come back (recurred), your overall health and your treatment goals. Your care team considers all these things as they work to create a treatment plan that’s best for you.


Surgery is the main thymus cancer treatment. We use imaging scans to find out if we can safely remove the tumor (or as much as we can) with a thymectomy. We may also have to remove your thymus gland along with lymph nodes, blood vessels, nerves or tissues around your heart and lungs. At Cleveland Clinic, we have experience doing even the most challenging cardiothoracic surgeries for thymus cancer — like tumors growing around coronary artery bypass grafts (CABGs).

Radiation therapy

Your provider may recommend that you have radiation therapy to shrink the tumor before surgery or destroy any remaining cancer cells afterward. You may have radiation as a standalone treatment — or combined with systemic treatments that destroy cancer cells throughout your body.

Systemic therapy

You may also need treatments that kill the remaining cancer cells, like:

Palliative care

Cancer often comes with symptoms and treatment side effects that you may need to manage. Our palliative care experts are here to help you do that — in a way that works best for you.

Taking the Next Step

A rare cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Cleveland Clinic specializes in treating cancers of all kinds and at all stages, including thymic carcinoma. When you come here for diagnosis and treatment, we’ll work with you to find the best treatment options for your unique needs and goals. We’re here to support you throughout this journey not only with the latest therapies but also with compassion, hope and an eye on your future.

Getting an appointment with Cleveland Clinic’s thymic carcinoma experts is easy. We’ll help you get the care you need.


Getting an appointment with Cleveland Clinic’s thymic carcinoma experts is easy. We’ll help you get the care you need.

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