Tests That Help Your Doctor Diagnose Thymus Cancer

If your doctor suspects you have thymus cancer, you may need one or more of these tests:

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests help your doctor see inside your body. They can help you and your doctor find out if you have thymus cancer. You may have one or more of these tests.

cat scan
A CT scan is one imaging test that helps your doctor see what is happening inside your body.

Chest X-ray. This is an X-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An X-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body. 

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan. For this test, you lay on a table as it slides through a CT scanner. The scanner takes many X-rays and a computer combines these images to create detailed pictures that your doctor can view.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Your doctor may order this test if a CT scan shows a possible involvement of a major blood vessel. MRIs use radio waves and magnets. The energy from the radio waves creates patterns formed by different types of tissue and diseases. This produces cross-sectional pictures that look like slices of the body.


core needle animation
Core Needle Biopsy

If your doctor finds a lump that might be cancerous, he or she may want to remove a part of it in a process called a biopsy. A special doctor called a pathologist checks the removed tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure if the lump is cancer.

These are the two most common types of biopsies for thymus tumors. Both are done on an outpatient basis, which means you will have it done at a hospital or clinic, but you don't have to spend the night.

Needle biopsy. In this biopsy, the doctor uses a CT scan or ultrasound to find the suspicious area or lump. Then he or she inserts a long needle through your skin and into either your thymus or the tumor. The doctor takes out cells and sometimes small "cores" of tissue. Then a pathologist looks at them under a microscope.

Mediastinotomy (sometimes called a Chamberlain Procedure). In this biopsy, the doctor makes a small cut next to your breastbone and uses a small tunnel to look into your chest and behind your breastbone at the tumor. The procedure allows the doctor to see the tumor and to take samples of it, and is usually done on an outpatient basis.

Some doctors are concerned that biopsies may cause the spread of tumor cells. If your doctor has a high suspicion of thymus cancer based on your symptoms and the CT scan, he or she may recommend that you have surgery to remove the whole tumor in one piece instead of taking biopsy samples first.

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