Last updated
ICD-9-CM 07.8
MeSH D013934

A thymectomy is an operation to remove the thymus. It usually results in remission of myasthenia gravis with the help of medication including steroids. However, this remission may not be permanent. Thymectomy is indicated when thymoma are present in the thymus. Anecdotal evidence suggests MG patients with no evidence of thymoma may still benefit from thymectomy, thus the procedure is (unless and until a much-discussed clinical survey ever reaches a contraindicatory conclusion) commonly prescribed.


Surgical approaches

There are a number of surgical approaches to the removal of the thymus gland: transternal (through the breast bone), transcervical (through a small neck incision), transthoracic (through one or both sides of the chest.)

There has been no difference in success in symptom improvement between the transsternal approach and the minimally invasive transcervical approach. [1]

Video-assisted approaches, such as laparoscopic surgery, are increasingly prescribed since the less invasive nature of the procedure strikes a balance with the lack of actual clinical evidence supporting thymectomy in non-thymomal cases. [2]

Impact of thymic loss

Thymectomy is a treatment for myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease. [3] For about 60% of people with myasthenia gravis, thymectomy significantly improves their symptoms of muscle weakness. In about 30% of cases, thymectomy results in permanent remission of myasthenia gravis, negating the need for any additional medication. Improvements in condition as a result of thymectomy are often delayed, typically occurring one or two years after the surgical procedure, though could be as late as five years. In some people, thymectomy does not alleviate any symptoms of myasthenia gravis. [4]

Experiments involving thymectomy in newborn mice showed that it unexpectedly resulted in wasting disease when performed before the mouse was three days old. This is because the thymus is the site where T cells are generated. Removal of the thymus resulted in autoimmunity, in which the immune cells attack the organism's own healthy cells and tissues. [5]

See also

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Myasthenia gravis Autoimmune disease resulting in skeletal muscle weakness

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Thymus Endocrine gland

The thymus is a specialized primary lymphoid organ of the immune system. Within the thymus, Thymus cell lymphocytes or T cells mature. T cells are critical to the adaptive immune system, where the body adapts specifically to foreign invaders. The thymus is located in the upper front part of the chest, in the anterior superior mediastinum, behind the sternum, and in front of the heart. It is made up of two lobes, each consisting of a central medulla and an outer cortex, surrounded by a capsule.

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A thymoma is a tumor originating from the epithelial cells of the thymus that may be benign or malignant. Thymomas are frequently associated with the neuromuscular disorder myasthenia gravis; thymoma is found in 20% of patients with myasthenia gravis. Once diagnosed, thymomas may be removed surgically. In the rare case of a malignant tumor, chemotherapy may be used.


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Thymus hyperplasia refers to an enlargement ("hyperplasia") of the thymus.

Thymoma with immunodeficiency is a rare disorder that occurs in adults in whom hypogammaglobulinemia, deficient cell-mediated immunity, and thymoma may develop almost simultaneously.Most reported cases are in Europe, though it occurs globally.

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Philip E. Bernatz

Philip Eugene Bernatz was an eminent American physician and thoracic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, and an international authority on the diagnosis and treatment of thymoma and other tumors of the chest. Bernatz was born on April 18, 1921 in Decorah, Iowa, as one of four children of Frank and Martha Bernatz, and he died on October 6, 2010, in Rochester, Minnesota.

Arvind Kumar (surgeon)

Arvind Kumar is the Chairman, Center for Chest Surgery and Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) New Delhi and Founder & Managing Trustee, Lung Care Foundation. He is Former Professor of Surgery & Head of Thoracic & Robotic Surgery Unit, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi (1988-2012). He was President of the Association of Surgeons of India in 2019.


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  1. Calhoun RF, Ritter JH, Guthrie TJ, Pestronk A, Meyers BF, Patterson GA, et al. (October 1999). "Results of transcervical thymectomy for myasthenia gravis in 100 consecutive patients". Annals of Surgery. 230 (4): 555–9, discussion 559–61. doi:10.1097/00000658-199910000-00011. PMC   1420904 . PMID   10522725.
  2. Ng CS, Wan IY, Yim AP (June 2010). "Video-assisted thoracic surgery thymectomy: the better approach". The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 89 (6): S2135-41. doi:10.1016/j.athoracsur.2010.02.112. PMID   20493997.
  3. "Thymectomy for Myasthenia Gravis". Cleveland Clinic. 14 May 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  4. "Thymectomy information". Myaware. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  5. Plitas G, Rudensky AY (2020-03-09). "Regulatory T Cells in Cancer". Annual Review of Cancer Biology. 4 (1): 459–477. doi: 10.1146/annurev-cancerbio-030419-033428 .