Risk factors for thymus cancer

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors, but there are no known risk factors for thymus cancer.

Thymus cancer is rare. It is mainly diagnosed in middle-aged and elderly people. It develops in men and women at about the same rate. Thymus cancer seems to happen more often in people of Asian, Pacific Island and African ancestry.

The following are possible risk factors for thymus cancer. These risk factors are not modifiable. This means that you can’t avoid them. Until we learn more about these risk factors, there are no specific ways you can reduce your risk.

Possible risk factors

The following conditions have been linked with thymoma, which is the most common cancerous tumour of the thymus. But there is not enough evidence to show for sure that these conditions are risk factors. More research is needed to completely understand how they affect the thymus.

Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to make antibodies that block or change some of the nerve signals to your muscles, causing weakness.

Pure red cell aplasia is when the bone marrow doesn’t make enough red blood cells, which causes anemia.

Hypogammaglobulinemia is when the body doesn’t have enough B cells. It causes a low level of gamma globulins in the blood. Gamma globulins normally fight infections.

Talk to your doctor about your risk. Having one of these conditions can be the first sign of a thymoma so your doctor may want to check for this cancer.

Questions to ask your healthcare team

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about risks.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Thymus Cancer Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention. 2017: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/thymus-cancer/causes-risks-prevention.html.
  • Cameron RB, Loehrer PJ, Lee PP . Neoplasms of the mediastinum. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 43:560-569.
  • Chen J, Yang Y, Zhu D, et al . Thymoma with pure red cell aplasia and Good’s syndrome . Annals of Thoracic Surgery . 2011 : 91(5):1620–1622 .
  • Engels EA . Epidemiology of thymoma and associated malignancies. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 2010: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951303/.
  • Govindan R, Stinchcombe TE, Morgensztern D . Paraneoplastic syndromes. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 129:.
  • Kelesidis T, Yang O . Good's syndrome remains a mystery after 55 years: a systematic review of the scientific evidence. Clinical Immunology. 2010.
  • Kumar R . Myasthenia gravis and thymic neoplasms: a brief review . World Journal of Clinical Cases . 2015 : 3(12):980–983 .
  • Shah AJ. Medscape Reference: Hypogammaglobulinemia. 2017: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/136471-overview.
  • US National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Myasthenia Gravis. 2016: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000712.htm.

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