Definition of Thymectomy

A surgical operation, performed under general anesthesia, to remove the thymus, a structure of lymphatic tissue located behind the sternum (breastbone) that produces T-cells. Tendrils of the thymus often extend upward toward the thyroid gland and downward over the heart. The loose structure of the thymus can make it challenging to surgically remove.

Thymectomy is the treatment of choice for most cancers of the thymus, which are uncommon. Doctors sometimes use this procedure to treat severe autoimmune disorders, such as myasthenia gravis, as a method to restrict the body’s ability to produce t-cells and thus limit the immune response.

Thymectomy in childhood has extensive consequences for immune system development though does not appear to alter immune response in adults. Most people require only a one or two day stay in the hospital, and about four to six weeks for full recovery.


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