Treatments for recurrent thymus cancer

Recurrent thymus cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. The following are treatment options for recurrent thymus cancer. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.


Chemotherapy is usually offered for recurrent thymus cancer. The type of chemotherapy given will depend on if chemotherapy was given before and which drugs were used. It also depends on how long it has been since you have had treatments. A chemotherapy combination with cisplatin (Platinol AQ) is used most often. Chemotherapy may be given:

  • before surgery, either alone or at the same time as radiation therapy (called chemoradiation)
  • after surgery to control the growth of any remaining cancer
  • alone or at the same time as radiation therapy when surgery can’t be done

Octreotide (Sandostatin) is a somatostatin analogue drug that slows down and controls the growth of some cancers. It may be used for recurrent thymoma that is advanced or metastatic, especially when surgery can’t be done. It may be combined with a corticosteroid drug like prednisone.

Radiation therapy

You may be offered radiation therapy for recurrent thymus cancer if you have not had radiation therapy to the chest before. External radiation therapy may be given:

  • at the same time as chemotherapy (called chemoradiation) and before surgery to shrink the tumour
  • alone or at the same time as chemotherapy when surgery can’t be done
  • after surgery or chemotherapy to control the growth of any remaining cancer

Brachytherapy (a type of internal radiation therapy) may be used as palliative therapy for thymoma that has spread to the bronchi, especially when external radiation therapy has already been used.


You may be offered surgery for recurrent thymomas. It is usually used if the cancer has come back in the same place where the cancer first started (local recurrence). If recurrent thymus cancer is in another part of the body, surgery may not be possible.

Surgery can be the first treatment, or it can be done after chemotherapy or chemoradiation. A total thymectomy is done to remove the thymus and as much cancer as possible that has grown into tissue around the thymus.

Debulking surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible may be used for some cases of recurrent thymus cancer that is advanced. It helps reduce symptoms caused by growth of the cancer.

If thymus cancer has spread to one part of the pleura (isolated pleural metastases), surgery may be used to remove the area.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

Talk to your doctor about clinical trials open to people with thymus cancer in Canada. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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