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The term thymectomy describes the surgical removal of the thymus gland. Located in the upper chest behind the breast bone (sternum), the thymus plays a role in the early development of the human immune system. Your physician may recommend a thymectomy if you have myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder; a thymoma that may or may not be related to myasthenia gravis; or thymic carcinoma. Shortly after infancy, your need for the thymus gland ends: removing it has no impact on your body’s ability to ward off infection.

Our skilled thoracic surgeons perform a wide range of surgical options for removing the thymus. NorthShore’s extensive experience with minimally invasive techniques as well as traditional open procedures allows us to expertly determine the best course of treatment for your unique situation.

Preparing for a Thymectomy

You will need to be seen by your primary care physician prior to undergoing the procedure. Your pre-operative clearance will include a discussion of your medical history and a physical exam. You may be required to undergo several diagnostic tests, including:

What to Expect

Thymectomy is performed under general anesthesia. At NorthShore, we offer two different advanced minimally-invasive techniques for removal of the thymus: robotic surgery using the da Vinci® system and video assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). Both procedures typically require an overnight stay in the hospital.

For robotic thymectomy, your surgeon will make tiny incisions on one side of your chest for the insertion of pencil-thin surgical instruments and a small video camera. The surgical team will then attach the da Vinci® robot’s two robotic manipulating arms to the instruments. Sitting at an adjacent console, your surgeon will control the precise movements of the robotic arms, while looking at the operative field with an immersive 3-dimensional view provided by the video camera. The thymus will be carefully detached and pulled through one of the incisions, generally no wider than one-quarter to one-half inch.

VATS is similar to robotic surgery, except without the use of the da Vinci® system. Instead, your surgeon will directly manipulate the surgical instruments for the removal of the thymus.

Your NorthShore thoracic surgeon may recommend traditional open surgery (sternotomy), especially for large thymomas (5 to 6 cm) or for thymic carcinoma. This procedure involves making an incision through the breast bone or sternum and “cracking the chest” to gain access to the thymus gland, which sits near the heart. A more intensive surgery, a sternotomy may require 4 to 5 nights in the hospital.

After your thymectomy, your pain will be controlled using one of several methods: a pump that delivers pain medicine through your intravenous line at your demand, by a nurse administering medicine through your intravenous line at your request, or through oral medicines. 

After your discharge from the hospital, you will want to make arrangements to have someone with you for the first couple of days if you live alone. You will not be able to drive until you are off of pain medicines.

For More Information

To schedule an appointment with one of our thoracic surgeons, please call 847.570.2868.