Thymic Masses and Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic muscular disorder characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of any of the muscles under voluntary control. Signs and symptoms include weakness of arm and leg muscles, double vision, drooping eyelids and difficulties with speech, chewing, swallowing and breathing.

Approximately 15 percent of people with myasthenia gravis have a tumor in their thymus gland, located under the breastbone. Mediastinal tumors are benign or cancerous growths that form in the area of the chest that separates the lungs called the mediastinum.

Tests and diagnosis

  • Mediastinoscopy & Mediastinotomy is a visual and physical inspection of the area between the lungs.
  • Thoracentesis is when a needle is inserted between your ribs to remove fluid surrounding the lungs in order to test for cancerous cells or other indications.
  • Thoracoscopy is when a small incision is made in your chest so that a camera can be passed into the cavity between the lungs and chest wall. Visualization of this area and biopsies of suspicious areas may be collected.
  • Fine needle biopsy is when a tiny needle is inserted into an area where a tumor is present. A small tissue sample is removed and then analyzed under a microscope to look for cellular changes.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) and CT (computed tomography) scans use penetrating waves to produce images. Often used to detect cancer, a PET scan introduces a radioactive substance through a patient’s vein, which collects in organs and tissues, and is detected by a scanner and converted into 3-D images. CT scans show the structure of and blood flow to and from organs.


  • Video-assisted thymectomy is a minimally invasive procedure where a surgeon makes a small incision in your neck and uses a long thin camera (thoracoscope) and sleek instruments to visualize and remove the thymus gland.
  • Robot-assisted thymectomy involves a surgeon making several small incisions in the side of your chest and using a robotic system to remove the thymus.
  • Resection of mediastinal masses is the removal of tumors in area of the chest that separates the lungs.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Our radiation oncologists use sophisticated technology to accurately locate tumors and then design treatment plans that precisely target specific doses of high-energy radiation toward cancer cells. This pinpoint accuracy ensures that tumors get the most potent dose of radiation while sparing your surrounding healthy tissue and organs.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of medicine to kill cancer. It can be given to patients intravenously through a vein in the arm or through an implanted venous catheter, such as mediport, or orally through a pill.
  • Immunotherapy is a form of biological therapy designed to stimulate a patient's own immune system to fight cancer. This can be done by engineering certain parts of a person's own immune system to drive the immune system to work harder or smarter to target and destroy cancer cells. Immunotherapy is sometimes used by itself, but it can also be used along with, or after, another type of treatment to boost its effects.
  • Targeted therapy uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth.
  • Adjuvant therapy is treatment given after surgery to reduce the chance of residual microscopic cancer cells remaining in your body. This may include chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
  • Neoadjuvant therapy is treatment given before surgery, including chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. This may reduce the amount of tumor remaining at the time of surgery, allowing for a more conservative operation.

Contact us

Undiagnosed or no referral

If you have not been formally diagnosed yet, call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 to see your primary care provider to explore all possible causes of your symptoms. All thoracic procedures require a referral from a provider before scheduling.

Scheduling a procedure

If you have a referral for a thoracic procedure, contact the team at the facility where you want to have the procedure completed:

Allegheny General Hospital
320 East North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(412) 359-6137

Forbes Hospital
2570 Haymaker Road
Monroeville, PA 15146

(412) 858-7088

Jefferson Hospital
565 Coal Valley Road
Jefferson Hills, PA 15025

(412) 469-7900

Saint Vincent Hospital
232 West 25th Street
Erie, PA 16544

(814) 453-7767