Surgery for thymus gland cancer

Surgery is the most common treatment for thymus gland cancer. The type of surgery you have depends on the size of the cancer and where it is in your body.

Types of surgery for thymus gland cancer

The main treatment for thymus cancer is surgery. The surgeon removes all of the thymus, or as much of it as possible. This operation is called a thymectomy. If the cancer has not spread outside the thymus, this may be the only treatment you need.

If the cancer has spread outside the thymus, the surgeon may need to remove nearby tissue around the lungs or heart.

The type of operation you have depends on the stage of the cancer.

If the cancer comes back in the same area, it may be possible to remove it again with surgery.

Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)

If the tumour is small, it can sometimes be removed using a type of keyhole surgery called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS).

The surgeon makes several small cuts at the base of the neck and passes a thin tube called a thoracoscope through one of the cuts. The tube has a tiny camera on the end which shows a picture of the area on a screen. The surgeon removes the thymus using small instruments that they pass through the cut.

VATS can also be used to remove the thymus from above or below the breastbone (sternum), or through cuts on either side of the chest.

Open surgery

If the tumour is larger or has spread outside the thymus, you need open surgery. The surgeon makes a slightly bigger cut down the middle of the chest to remove the thymus and sometimes nearby tissue.

Your surgeon or specialist nurse can give you more information about surgery for your situation.

After surgery for thymus gland cancer

How long you are in hospital for depends on the operation you have. You may be cared for in a high dependency unit for a short while.

With keyhole surgery, you recover more quickly. So you may only need to stay in hospital overnight. If you had open surgery, you may stay in hospital for up to 7 days.

After your operation, the nurses will encourage you to start moving around as soon as possible. This helps prevent complications such as a blood clot or chest infection.

If you had open surgery, you will probably have a drip (infusion) giving you fluids until you are able to drink normally. You may also have one or more tubes in the wound on your chest to drain fluid and air into a big bottle. This is usually taken out after a few days.

After surgery, it is normal to have some pain or discomfort. There are different ways it can be managed. Your nurse will assess you to make sure your pain is well controlled. If you are in pain, let your doctor or nurse know, so they can change your painkillers.

The stitches, clips or staples are usually removed from your wound about 7 to 10 days after surgery. If you have dissolvable stitches, they disappear over a few weeks.

It takes time to recover from surgery and you may feel tired for several weeks. Before you go home, your doctor or nurse will give you advice about your recovery.