Last Updated: November 18, 2013

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What is thymoma?

This cancer develops in the outer surface of the thymus, a gland behind the breastbone that produces T-cells, a type of white blood cells. Thymoma is rare, but it is the most common tumor in adults affecting the mediastinum, which is the cavity between the lungs containing the heart, esophagus, and trachea.1 A tumor of the thymus tends to grow slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, of the estimated 400 Americans who develop this cancer each year, half are diagnosed with metastatic thymoma.2 When the cancer metastasizes, only 45 percent of patients survive five years after their diagnosis.

View additional information on thymoma.

Thymoma is part of an effort to characterize rare tumor types. Read more about the Rare Tumor Projects.

What types of discoveries about thymoma do The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) researchers hope to make?

  • Determine the genomic mutations that lead to thymoma, especially those that may serve as therapeutic targets
  • Investigate patterns of metastasis, including how and where thymoma spreads to other parts of the body
  • Identify genomic patterns that predict patient survival

Where can I find more information about the TCGA Research Network's studies, or studies using TCGA data?

View a list of TCGA scientific publications.

Where can I find clinical trials to treat thymoma that are supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)?

View a list of NCI-supported thymoma clinical trials that are now accepting patients.

Selected References 

1 Venuta F, Rendina EA, Anile M, de Giacomo T, Vitolo D, Coloni GF. (2012) Thymoma and thymic carcinoma. Gen Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 60(1):1-12.

2 American Cancer Society. (2012) Thymus cancer. Retrieved from