Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thymus Cancer: A Review

This week for my elective week, I had the wonderful opportunity to work in an outpatient oncology clinic with the outpatient oncology dietitian.  These clinics are radiation clinics, so instead of formal appointments every half hour in one location, the dietitian is able to see the patient after their radiation session for as much time as it takes at various radiation oncology sites across Montgomery County.  The patient may require a full nutrition counseling session, just ask a few questions or ask for some reading material.  It's a great environment where the patients are often really interested in learning about healthy diets to help prevent recurrence of their cancer.

During my week I saw a patient with thymus cancer, which is rare.  So for this blog, I'm going to do a quick review of what the thymus does and how it is treated nutritionally.

The thymus gland is located in the upper chest, under the breast bone.  It's part of the lymphatic system and helps make T-lymphocytes in infancy and childhood, to help fight infection.  An interesting note about thymus cancer is that although it is rare, it's most commonly seen in patients with autoimmune diseases like myasthenia gravis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. "Thymic carcinoma" originates in the epithelial cells in the thymus.

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The most common treatment is surgery to remove the malignant tumor, but chemotherapy and radiation are also possible treatments.  Nutritionally, it is treated like any other form of lymphoma; focus on getting enough calories and watch for signs of radiation-swallowing issues since the radiation beam may impact the esophagus.  In the case of this patient, we focused on a diet full of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.  The patient was extremely interested in healthy eating, and I would say overall a very successful appointment!

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