Symptoms Of Thymoma

October 26, 2023

Thymoma is a type of tumor that can affect the thymus gland, located in the upper chest behind the breastbone. The thymus gland is a part of the lymphatic system, helping the body to fight off infection as a part of the immune system.

Thymoma generally grows slowly and stays localized to the region around the thymus gland. A related disease, known as thymic carcinoma, is a kind of cancer that spreads beyond the thymus gland to other areas of the body, making treatment more difficult. It is essential to detect thymoma early for a better prognosis. This makes it important to know the symptoms of thymoma.

Shortness Of Breath

Because the thymus gland is centrally located in the chest, it is located to some critical structures in the body. If the tumor grows large enough, it can press on your airway and certain blood vessels, making it more difficult to get the amount of air in and out of your lungs as you have been used to. When your airway becomes narrowed or blocked due to the tumor, this can result in shortness of breath. If you notice you are having more trouble breathing than usual, and you do not have other respiratory symptoms that would indicate a virus, talk with your physician to rule out thymoma.

Chest Pain

As the tumor from thymoma presses against certain structures within the chest cavity, this can result in pain. The pain can be caused by just the pressure of the tumor itself pressing in on surrounding structures, such as the air passageways. The movement that occurs in the chest area due to the heart beating and through respiration can also cause irritation and inflammation when rubbing against the tumor. If breathing is affected, a reduction of the intake of oxygen can also cause some pain in the chest area. Because chest pain can have so many causes, if you experience this symptom, it is important to see a qualified professional to make a proper diagnosis.

Night Sweats

If you experience excessive sweating during the night, this might be an indication of thymoma. Much different than feeling flushed or simply overheated, night sweats are like severe hot flashes and can cause you to wake up to your clothing and even your bed sheets drenched and soaked in sweat. This type of sweating that occurs at night is commonly experienced as a symptom of cancer. Cancers that affect the immune system, such as thymoma, are especially known for increasing the risk of night sweats. Do not ignore this symptom. If you sweat profusely at night regardless of sleeping in a cool, comfortable environment, see a medical professional.

Persistent Cough

Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign material from the lungs and air passageways to help you to breathe more freely. Because thymoma can press on structures that affect breathing, any restriction in the flow of air may lead to an increase in this protective function. Additionally, cancerous tissue can spread to the outer lining of the lungs. Inflammation and irritation of this lining can lead to coughing as a way to open up breathing passageways. If you suddenly develop this symptom and it does not go away despite home treatment or over-the-counter remedies, check with your physician to rule out the possibility of thymoma.

Weight Loss

Unlike some other symptoms of thymoma that are due to the pressure the tumor places on structures within the body, unexplained weight loss typically occurs as a result of the disease aspect of cancer. As the immune system launches its attack against the cancer cells, this can lead to weight loss. Part of this is due to a loss of muscle tissue that occurs as a result of the immune system's attack on the cancer cells. As muscle tissue is destroyed, you could see unexplained weight loss. Additionally, you could lose your appetite when your body is fighting cancer, also leading to weight loss.

Muscle Weakness

Many individuals with thymoma also deal with a condition called myasthenia gravis, which is characterized by different degrees of skeletal muscle weakness. Skeletal muscle weakness in these instances increases when an individual is active (e.g., walking) and improves when they rest. The typical muscles affected with this weakness include the ones that control the patient’s chewing, talking, facial expressions, and their eye and eyelid movement. Thankfully, the respiratory muscles are not as commonly affected when patients are dealing with thymoma.

Difficulty Swallowing

The thymus is a small gland located in the top part of the breast, just between the lungs and under the breastbone. This gland is near the individual’s airways as well as a selection of blood vessels. When tumors develop in the thymus, such as in thymoma, they can begin to press on nearby parts of the body. The resulting pressure can make it more difficult for an individual to swallow food, given the throat and digestive tract can be affected. The difficulty swallowing can cause another symptom of thymoma, weight loss, because patients may not be getting as many nutrients as they need since it is harder to eat.

Frequent Infections

Thymomas can compromise the immune system, and in these cases are commonly referred to as thymomas with immunodeficiency (formerly known as Good’s syndrome). Thymomas with immunodeficiency is a rare condition involving a T- and B-cell immunodeficiency along with a thymoma. T-cells, in particular, are an integral part of the body’s ability to fight and adapt to viruses, fungal infections, as well as bacterial infections and illnesses. The thymus, which is what’s affected in thymoma and thymoma with immunodeficiency, is where the T-cells mature. While the infections a patient catches may even be simple ones, they typically catch them far more often given that their immune system is compromised. Thus, patients should be on the lookout!


When tumors due to thymoma begin to affect the major blood vessel, called the superior vena cava, located between the heart and the head, individuals may develop a condition known as superior vena cava syndrome. While superior vena cava syndrome is one of the rarer conditions that develop due to thymoma, it is still possible. In any case, one of the hallmark symptoms of thymoma, when it progresses to this point, is swelling in the face, upper chest, and neck. This kind of swelling can also turn into a bluish color. Individuals who present with swelling as a symptom, in addition to swelling in the neck, face, and upper chest, may also find the visible veins in this part of the body also begin to swell.


As is clear at this point, tumors in thymoma often cause additional conditions and thus, symptoms that indicate them. One of these associated conditions and symptoms is anemia, which occurs when the patient’s red blood cell count is lower than normal. In severe instances, the anemia can progress to the point of red cell aplasia. Thankfully, anemia is not an incredibly common symptom of thymoma. Anemia, both due to thymoma and other causes, also presents with dizziness and lightheadedness in patients. Thus, individuals should be on the lookout for these symptoms as well, and if they also have some of the other symptoms discussed, should definitely test for thymoma if they do indeed have anemia.

MORE FROM HealthPrep