General Considerations

•thymoma is classified as invasive or non-invasive

•thymoma is non-invasive in 50%-100% cats

•non-invasive thymomas are well-encapsulated

•invasive thymoma will invade adjacent structures such as cranial vena cava, thoracic wall, and pericardium

•thymomas can also be cystic

•thymoma arises from thymic epithelium and has variable mature lymphocyte involvement which can predominate, but the epithelium is the malignant component

•lymphoid component exfoliates more readily than epithelial component and hence it can be difficult to differentiate thymoma from cranial mediastinal LSA

•DDx: thymic LSA, thymic carcinoma, thymic branchial cyst, ectopic thyroid and parathyroid neoplasia, aortic body tumor, metastatic carcinoma, and rib and sternal sarcomas extending into mediastinal space

Clinical Features

•thymoma is very rare in cats

•male predisposition with a male-to-female ratio of 2.5:1

•median age: 10.8 years

•thymoma occurs in older cats compared to thymic LSA

•histopathologic features: mixture of thymic epithelial cells and small lymphocytes in variable proportions

•mast cells detected in 50% of feline thymoma

•SCC has been reported to arise from feline thymoma

•invasive thymoma may be more common in cats (55% in one report)

•metastasis has not been reported

Clinical Signs

Non-Invasive Thymoma

•asymptomatic or non-specific signs associated with large space-occupying thoracic mass

•exercise intolerance, coughing, dyspnea, dysphagia, and weight loss

•coughing and dyspnea due to pleural effusion or compression of trachea or segmental bronchi

•dysphagia and drooling secondary to esophageal compression or megaesophagus

•laryngeal paralysis with peripheral nerve entrapment

•paraneoplastic syndromes associated with thymoma: myasthenia gravis, hypogammaglobulinemia, hypercalcemia, and aplastic anemia

Invasive Thymoma

•clinical signs and paraneoplastic syndromes are the same as non-invasive thymoma

•cranial vena cava syndrome: edema of submandibular area, neck, thoracic inlet, and thoracic limbs, and association with pleural effusion (particularly chylothorax)

•pneumothorax and hemothorax have also been reported with invasive thymoma

Paraneoplastic Syndromes

•paraneoplastic syndromes associated with thymoma include:

•myasthenia gravis



•aplastic anemia

•myasthenia gravis is present in the Okas cat and 40% of dogs with thymoma

•myasthenia gravis may be either focal or generalized with megaesophagus and generalized weakness

•thymic monocytes may become immunogenic resulting in formation of antibodies directed against acetylcholine receptors and resulting in development of myasthenia gravis

•thymoma is also associated with other immunogenic diseases with 20%-40% of dogs presenting with autoimmune disease such as immune-mediated anemia, polymyositis, and exfoliative dermatitis (cats)

•cardiac myositis causes 3rd degree atrioventricular block

Non-Thymic Neoplasia

•high incidence of 2nd non-thymic malignancy associated with thymoma due to possible association with deficient immunologic surveillance

•2nd tumors include both sarcomas and carcinomas


•clinical signs

•physical examination: caval syndrome and auscultation changes associated with pleural effusion

•hematology and serum biochemistry are usually unremarkable

•lymphocytosis (> 20,000 cells/µL) and pseudohyperparathyroidism are occasionally observed

•thoracic radiographic findings include:

•space occupying mass with dorsal elevation of trachea and esophagus

•caudal displacement of cardiac silhouette

•megaesophagus and aspiration pneumonia with paraneoplastic myasthenia gravis

•minimal pleural effusion with non-invasive thymoma

•pleural effusion which may obscure mass with invasive thymoma

•pulmonary metastasis

•ultrasonography: mixed echogenicity with cavitation compared to homogenous hypoechogenicity with LSA

•advanced imaging (i.e., CT or MRI)

•FNA or needle-core biopsy: predominance of lymphocytes rather than epithelial cells may confuse diagnosis

•immunohistochemistry may be required for definitive diagnosis (cytokeratin)

•other tests include FeLV and FIV in cats and acetylcholine receptor antibody titres

•thymoma can be differentiated from cranial mediastinal lymphoma by:



•exploratory thoracotomy required to differentiate non-invasive and invasive thymoma

•median sternotomy usually required due to size of tumor, but lateral intercostal thoracotomy can be used for smaller lesions or in cats (although adjacent rib resection sometimes required)

•non-invasive thymomas do not adhere to intrathoracic structures and removed using blunt-sharp dissection

•cranial vena cava and phrenic nerves are located along the craniodorsal aspect of cranial mediastinal mass

•invasive thymomas usually invade vital structures and are difficult surgical candidates

•venous grafts are used in humans, and has been reported in the dog, for thymomas invading the cranial vena cava

Radiation Therapy

•thymomas are radiation-sensitive tumors in cats, dogs, and humans

•75% response rate in cats and dogs with thymomas, including 20% CR

•lymphoid component of thymoma may determine completeness of response

•adverse effects: pneumonitis and pericarditis


•chemotherapy is usually ineffective, but can be attempted in combination with corticosteroids for invasive thymoma

•partial and complete responses are uncommon

•corticosteroids may provide either prolonged stable disease or even partial or complete response

•response to corticosteroids is due to cytotoxic effects on T lymphocytes which can represent a large non-neoplastic component of thymoma

•cisplatin, ifosfamide, corticosteroids, doxorubicin, maytansine, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and procarbazine are used in single or multiple agent protocols in humans with invasive and metastatic thymomas

Other Treatment

•immunosuppressive therapy or anticholinesterase treatment for myasthenia gravis

•motility drugs, H 2 antagonists, and antibiotics for prophylactic management of megaesophagus


•prognosis is excellent

•no local recurrence or metastasis in 10 cats surviving perioperative period

•myasthenia gravis has been reported in 2 cats postoperatively

•MST for cats with surgery: 21 months (range, 6-36 months)

•MST for cats with radiation therapy: 720 days







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FeLV Status



Lymphocytes, epithelial cells, and mast cells






Minimal response

Early and rapid response