The thymus is located in the upper part of the chest. It is made of two lobes that join in front of the trachea. The thymus is an important part of children’s immune systems. It grows larger until puberty and then begins to shrink. The gland produces thymosins, which are hormones that stimulate the development of antibodies. The thymus also produces T-lymphocytes which are white blood cells that fight infections and destroy abnormal cells.
The thymus gland is very active in childhood. It plays a crucial role in developing and improving a child’s immune system. The main thymus gland function is to produce and process lymphocytes or T cells (in T cells ‘T’ stands for thymus derived). Lymphocytes are White Blood Cells (WBCs), which are also known as leukocytes. After the white blood cells mature, they leave the thymus gland and get settled in the spleen and the lymph nodes, where a fresh batch of T cells is produced. These white blood cells are the body’s immune system and protect the body by producing antibodies that stop the invasion of foreign agents, bacteria and viruses. These cells also ensure the proper functioning of the body system and look after the wear and tear of the organs. Another function of thymus gland is to prevent the abnormal growth of cells, that may lead to cancer. The T lymphocytes travel from the bone marrow to the thymus gland where they remain until they get activated. After maturity, the lymphocytes enter the blood stream. From there they travel to other lymphatic organs and provide defense mechanism against diseases. The thymus gland also produces a hormone called thymosin, which stimulates the T cells in the other lymphatic organs to mature. This gland also produces another hormone called thymopoietin, which is protein present in the mRNA (messenger RNA) and is encoded by the TMPO gene.
In some cases, the thymus gland may become underactive. The individual may have a weak immune system and be prone to many infections and allergies. These infections can be chronic and may continue for a long time. When there is a lack of T cells in the body, it can lead to immunodeficiency diseases. The person suffering from immunodeficiency diseases may show symptoms like extreme sweating, puffiness or soreness of the throat, swelling in the glands and depression. Malnutrition and a deficiency of protein, at an early age, can lead to the slow or limited growth of the thymus, thus impairing the normal functioning of the lymphocytes. Thus ensure that your child eats a well balanced meal and also has the right amount of proteins.
Cancer of the thymus is very rare.
Most of the time there are no symptoms of thymus cancer but the following could indicate thymus cancer.
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
The thymus contains different types of cells, each of which can develop into different types of cancer:
Epithelial cells give the thymus its structure and shape. They can give rise to thymomas and thymic carcinomas, which are the main focus of the rest of this document.
Lymphocytes make up most of the rest of the thymus. Whether in the thymus or in other parts of the body, these immune system cells can develop into cancers called Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin lymphomas, which are described in other documents from the American Cancer Society
Kulchitsky cells, or neuroendocrine cells, are much less common cells that normally release certain hormones. These cells can give rise to cancers called carcinoid tumors. Much of the information in the American Cancer Society documents Lung Carcinoid Tumor and Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors also applies to carcinoids of the thymus.
Doctors can tell the different thymic cancers apart by how they look under the microscope and by the results of other lab tests done on tissue samples.