Thymic Disorders Program

The Thymic Disorders Program in Mass General's Division of Thoracic Surgery provides treatment for complex thymic disorders.

  • Phone: 617-726-6826

The Thymic Disorders Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Thoracic Surgery has extensive expertise in treating everything from the most common to the rarest of thymic disorders.

What to Expect: Myasthenia Gravis

Patients with myasthenia gravis (MG) initially have their condition diagnosed and medically stabilized by a neurologist, who then refers the patient to our surgeons. The surgeon first arranges for the patient to have a CT scan to look for a potential thymoma as MG has about a 25 percent chance of being associated with a thymoma. Based on the findings of this test and other factors, we work with the patient to determine the most appropriate surgical course of treatment.

Our division's physicians are highly skilled in performing transcervical thymectomy and video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS), two minimally invasive procedures for thymus removal. We also perform standard open (i.e. transsternal) procedures. we have an excellent track record with both techniques in terms of patient outcomes.

Following surgery, the MG patient’s neurologist will provide ongoing follow-upI, which may include medication management for any muscle weakness.

What to Expect: Thymoma & Thymic Carcinoma

Our surgeons typically can diagnose thymoma by reading a CT scan. A PET/CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be necessary. Smaller tumors often are excised via surgery alone — a quick and effective approach.

Thymomas that are large and/or locally advanced require more complex treatment. We may begin by performing a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, in which we sample cells from the tumor using a very thin needle.

Depending on the biopsy results, the patient may undergo chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy and then surgery, all of which we coordinate with our thoracic oncology colleagues at the Cancer Center. We usually perform open transsternal procedures in these cases, as we believe they produce better outcomes than minimally invasive approaches.

Thymic carcinomas are similar in nature to thymomas but more advanced. These usually require chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy before surgery.

Chance of recovery and treatment options for thymoma and thymic carcinoma depend on:

  • Stage of cancer
  • Type of cancer cell
  • Whether the tumor can be removed completely by surgery
  • The patient's general health
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has come back

An Established Leader in Thymoma Surgery

Mass General has been a longstanding leader in the field of thymoma surgery. Our experience gives us a distinct advantage in understanding this rare condition and how best to treat it based on the patient's circumstances. As part of our standard of care, we follow patients over the long term to monitor for possible recurrence. Where appropriate, we collaborate with our Cancer Center thoracic oncology colleagues to treat patients with thymoma or thymic carcinoma. These professionals include medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, all of whom specialize in thoracic cancer. Our multidisciplinary approach to care enhances our ability to evaluate and treat our patients.

To make an appointment, please contact the division at 617-726-6826.

The Thymic Disorders Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Thoracic Surgery has extensive expertise in treating everything from the most common to the rarest of thymic disorders.

All of our division's surgeons are highly experienced in treating these thymic conditions:

  • Thymoma: Thymomas are the most common type of tumor found in the front of the mediastinum. We recommend the surgical removal of both benign and malignant thymomas.
  • Myasthenia gravis (MG): This rare autoimmune neuromuscular disorder causes muscle weakness and is always diagnosed and medically stabilized by a neurologist. It is often associated with a thymoma, in which case the thymus and thymoma are always removed. Most patients with MG alone are referred by their neurologist for a thymectomy to increase the chance of obtaining a remission of their MG.
  • Thymic hyperplasia: This benign condition — in which the thymus is enlarged for unknown reasons — usually does not require surgery. Instead, we follow the patient with CT scans over time to confirm the condition is indeed benign.
  • Thymic carcinoma: If this rare thymic tumor is localized, we typically treat it with chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy, then surgery. If it is widespread, we treat it with chemotherapy. Our program also treats extremely rare conditions involving thymic cysts, thymolipoma and thymic carcinoids.

More Than 50 Years of History

Mass General has been treating and researching thymic disorders since the 1950s. Today, members of our division are recognized nationally and internationally as experts on thymoma and other thymic disorders. We have published many significant papers on thymoma, including topics such as these:

Enrolling Patients for Clinical Trial

Currently, we are one of three U.S. institutions enrolling patients for a Phase II study of chemoradiotherapy for locally advanced thymoma. This clinical trial is modeled after a protocol developed at Mass General.

For information on participating, please contact Cameron Wright, MD, at 617-726-5801 or cdwright@partners.org.

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a complex, autoimmune disorder in which antibodies destroy neuromuscular connections. This causes problems with the voluntary muscles of the body, especially the eyes, mouth, throat, and limbs.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Division of Thoracic Surgery

55 Fruit Street
Blake 1570
Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-726-6826

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  • Phone: 617-726-6826