Thymic Lymphoma

This entry looks at thymic lymphoma, better known as primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, one of the subtypes of lymphoma. 'Lymphoma' is an umbrella term that loosely refers to several dozen independent categorical types and subtypes of cancers of the lymphatic system.

What is the Thymus?

The thymus is a small organ located below the neck and just above the heart. It is one of two primary organs in the lymphatic system, along with the bone marrow. The purpose of the thymus is to generate T-cells to distribute throughout the body to fight against infections. Curiously, it reaches its maximum size at puberty and then begins to shrink—both physically as well as in output—as we age, eventually being overtaken in our elderly years by fatty tissue.

What is Thymic Lymphoma?

When cancer develops here it will be classified in one of two ways: if the cancer is in the cells that constitute the outer covering of the thymus, that is called thymoma or thymic carcinoma (carcinomas refer to cancers of epithelial cells in surrounding tissue, as opposed to connective tissue). If cancer develops from the lymphocytes in the thymus, it is thymic lymphoma.

Since the thymus is located in an area of the body referred to as the mediastinum, it is often called primary mediastinal lymphoma.

What are Some Symptoms of Thymic Lymphoma?

Similar to other lymphomas, the symptoms associated with thymic lymphoma are non-specific and can be interpreted to be many different things. They are:

  • Painless, swollen lymph nodes
  • Fevers
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Respiratory problems (coughing, chest pain, breathlessness
  • Swelling in the neck, arms or face (caused by superior vena cava obstructions

Treatment and Prognosis of Thymic Lymphoma

Because this cancer is so rare, the optimal treatment for thymic lymphoma remains in dispute. However, this is a very aggressive form of lymphoma, and induction therapy is crucial as soon as possible. Various combination chemotherapy regimens have been tested against this lymphoma, all with varying results. They are sometimes followed up by radiotherapy, and in severe cases, with stem cell transplantation.

Sources

Macmillan Cancer Support, Mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma

Johnson PW, Davies AJ. Primary Mediastinal B-cell lymphoma Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program. 2008:349-58.

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