What Is a Thymectomy?

A thymectomy is surgery to remove your thymus. The thymus is a small gland that sits in front of your heart and produces immune cells.

The thymus helps develop the immune system in babies and young children. Typically, it shrinks as you get older. Most adults don’t have any problems with their thymus gland. But some conditions may affect your thymus, causing problems with your immune function.

Cardiothoracic Surgery Providers

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

Our cardiothoracic surgeons are the first in the region to offer robotic thymectomy. This technique leads to quicker recovery, less scarring, and reduced pain. We’re able to treat complex cases with lower complication rates and increased levels of function after surgery.

We’re the highest volume thoracic surgery team in the Mountain West region. We continually learn and implement the latest, most advanced techniques. Patients who come to us choose a team on the leading edge of care.

Candidate Criteria for Thymectomy

Your health care provider may recommend thymus gland removal if you have:

  • a thymic mass or cancer (thymoma) or
  • an autoimmune condition called myasthenia gravis.

We can perform thymectomies in patients of all ages. On average, thymomas occur most often in adults 45 and older.

How Does Thymectomy Help Myasthenia Gravis?

Myasthenia gravis causes your body to attack the connections between your nerves and muscles. People with this condition produce irregular antibodies that interrupt muscles from receiving nerve signals.

After thymus removal, your body will no longer create these irregular antibodies. As a result, your myasthenia gravis symptoms decrease.

How to Prepare for a Thymectomy

You’ll meet with your surgical team in the clinic several days before surgery. Your thoracic surgeon will explain what to expect during surgery and recovery. You’ll discuss options for pain management and how long you’ll have to take off work.

You don’t usually need to do anything special to prepare for a thymectomy. You may have to stop taking certain medications, such as blood thinners, for a brief period.

Robotic Thymectomy Procedure

Our cardiothoracic surgeons perform robotic thymectomies as often as possible. We only use open surgery in rare cases, usually when a tumor has grown so large that we can’t remove it with robotic techniques. We are one of only two centers in our region that performs high volumes of robotic thymus removal.

During a robotic thymectomy, your cardiothoracic surgeon will:

  • Make three or four small incisions (cuts) in the side of your chest.
  • Insert small surgical tools and a camera through the incisions.
  • Connect the tools and camera to a surgical robotic.
  • Control the robotic arms to remove the thymus precisely and efficiently.

How Long Is Thymectomy Surgery?

Thymectomy surgery typically lasts two to three hours.

Thymectomy Recovery

You stay in the hospital overnight after a thymectomy. If you have myasthenia gravis, you may stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) to ensure there are no problems with your nerve function after surgery. We work closely with your referring neurologist and monitor you for any increased symptoms of myasthenia gravis before discharge.

Thymectomy Aftercare

You’ll have a drainage tube inserted through one of the incisions in your chest while you recover in the hospital. Our providers will instruct you on any precautions to take with the drainage tube. We usually remove it before you return home.

Most people go home the day after robotic thymectomy. You can resume some of your usual activities as soon as you feel comfortable. Most people return to work around two weeks after a thymectomy. You may need to wait a little longer if you have an active job.

Thymectomy Side Effects

You may have some mild soreness after a thymectomy. Your cardiothoracic surgeon will give you pain medications if needed. Most people have no long-term side effects from a thymectomy.

Thymectomy Scars

The scars from a robotic thymectomy are minimal. The incisions (cuts) are each about half an inch long and are located on the side of your chest. These scars aren’t very noticeable after your incisions heal. 

Thymectomy Success Rate

Thymectomies have excellent success rates. Up to 80 percent of people with myasthenia gravis decrease their medication usage after thymus gland removal. About 60 percent of people with the condition can stop taking medications completely.

Thymomas are also unlikely to grow back. If you had a thymoma, you’ll see our cardiothoracic specialists each year for at least five years after surgery. We will take CT scans of your chest to confirm that a thymoma doesn’t grow back.

How Much Does a Thymectomy Cost?

The cost of thymectomy surgery can vary depending on your insurance. Our team can help you understand your insurance benefits and surgery costs.

How to Schedule an Evaluation with Our Cardiothoracic Surgeons

To make an appointment with our cardiothoracic surgeons, call 801-585-6740. We encourage you to get a referral from your neurologist or primary care provider. However, we do accept self-referrals.

To refer a patient for cardiothoracic surgery, complete our referral form or call 801-585-6740.