What to Know About Radiation Therapy for Thymus Cancer

Radiation therapy is one way to treat thymus cancer. This treatment is also called radiotherapy.

It uses X-rays to control the growth of cancer cells. Radiation is a local treatment, which means it affects the cancer cells only in the area treated.

Doctors frequently give radiation after surgery if the tumor had spread into nearby tissue, even if the tumor was completely removed. You may also have radiation if you cannot have surgery, or if the tumor comes back in the same area where it started. Some doctors recommend radiation therapy before surgery to shrink larger tumors, but not all doctors agree that this is useful. Radiation is not as effective when used by itself for thymic cancer, although some patients may prefer it if they are too ill for surgery. 

For this treatment, you will see a radiation oncologist. This doctor specializes in the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. He or she decides how often you need radiation and at what dose. Radiation for thymus cancer is given externally from a machine outside the body. It will feel a lot like getting an X-ray, but it takes a little longer.

Radiation can make you tired or give you mild redness of the skin. Chest radiation can also cause shortness of breath, painful swallowing, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, most of which improve after radiation is completed. If used with chemotherapy, it's possible that the side effects of chemotherapy may be worse than with chemotherapy alone. Be sure your doctor knows if you're having side effects as there are often ways to help you with them.