How Rare is Thymic Cancer?

How Rare is Thymic Cancer?

Thymic cancer, is a rare form of malignancy that arises in the thymus, a small gland located in the chest behind the breastbone.

According to NCRAS (National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service), in the UK in 2020 there were 329 cases of cancerous tumour of the thymus, compared to a total of 392,466 registered cases of cancer that year.

Thymic cancers made up only 0.08% of all cancers registered in 2020.*

To put this into perspective, common cancers such as breast, lung, and prostate cancers make up around 40% between them. For example, between 2016-2018, there were approximately 56,000 cases of breast cancer**, which accounted for around 15% of all cancer cases in the UK. Similarly, there were around 48,000 cases of lung cancer** and 52,000 cases of prostate cancer**, which accounted for around 13% and 14% respectively, of all cancer cases in the UK in those years.


Rarity of Thymic Cancer in the USA

According to the American Cancer Society there are around 400 cases per year (although the exact number is unknown), they also state that roughly there are 1.5 cases of thymic cancer for every 1 million people each year in the USA.

These figures highlight just how rare thymic cancers are, and how important it is to raise and maintain awareness among researchers, doctors and the public to help spot the symptoms, diagnose earlier, develop new and better treatments and help to ensure better outcomes for people.


The Types of Thymic Cancer and Rarity

Thymoma – The most common

Thymic Carcinoma – Rarer than Thymoma

Thymic Neuroendocrine Cancer – Even rarer than both Thymoma and Thymic Carcinoma.


Lack of Knowledge on Symptoms

According to the Journal of Thoracic Disease around 30% of patients with thymoma have no symptoms when the tumour is diagnosed.

Thymic cancer is usually found by accident while doctors are looking for other things.

Some symptoms of thymic cancers include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Upper airway congestion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Anaemia
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arm or facial swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • An increased risk of infection

Again, this highlights the importance for awareness of the symptoms and further research.

The exact causes of thymic cancer are unknown, and it is not known to be associated with any particular risk factors.


Support for a Rare Cancer

Despite the rarity of thymic cancers there is support available. Those based in the UK and Ireland, can join the ThymicUK mailing list and/of join the the private ThymicUK support group on Facebook. At time of writing the group has 317 members and is fairly active with patients, family members and friends sharing their experiences, helping and supporting one another.

Support for those outside the UK and Irland includes the international thymoma support group on facebook.

How You can Help

Help us to raise awareness by:

* Based on figures from NCRAS 2020.


Breast Cancer Cases 2016 – 2018 – Cancer Research UK –

Prostate Cancer Cases 2016 – 2018 – Cancer Research UK –

Lung Cancer Cases 2016 – 2018 – Cancer Research UK –

Total Cancer Cases 2016 – 2018 – Cancer Research UK –,year%20(2016%2D2018).

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