Common and rare carcinomas of the thymus

Anja C. Roden, Malgorzata Szolkowska

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Thymic carcinoma encompasses a diverse group of rare tumors that occur almost exclusively in the prevascular (anterior) mediastinum. Thymic carcinomas have a worse outcome than thymomas with a median time to death of under 3 years. These tumors lack the typical lobulation of thymomas, exhibit commonly more cytologic atypia, are associated with a desmoplastic stromal reaction, and lack thymocytes, features that distinguish them from thymomas. The most common thymic carcinoma is squamous cell carcinoma; other subtypes include mucoepidermoid carcinoma, NUT carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma, among others. Largely due to multi-institutional and global efforts and meta-analysis of case reports and series, some of the thymic carcinoma subtypes have been studied in more detail and molecular studies have also been performed. Morphology and immunophenotype for the vast majority of thymic carcinoma subtypes are similar to their counterparts in other organs. Therefore, the distinction between thymic carcinoma and metastatic disease, which is relatively common in the prevascular mediastinum, can be challenging and in general requires clinical and radiologic correlation. Although surgical resection is the treatment of choice, only 46 to 68% of patients with thymic carcinoma can undergo resection as many other tumors present at high stage with infiltration into vital neighboring organs. These patients are usually treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation. The search for better biomarkers for prognosis and treatment of thymic carcinomas is important for improved management of these patients and possible targeted therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-128
Number of pages18
JournalVirchows Archiv
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • GTF2I
  • Lymphoepithelioma-like carcinoma
  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • NUT carcinoma
  • Thymic carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Common and rare carcinomas of the thymus'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this