Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune condition that causes muscle weakness. In MG, the immune system attacks the body’s nerves and muscles. This is often associated with abnormalities in an organ called the thymus.
Surgical removal of the thymus may be done to treat MG, especially if there is a tumor. This surgery is called a thymectomy. The procedure usually improves symptoms, but it can leave a visible scar down the middle of the chest.
The scar impacts everyone differently. How you handle the scar is completely up to you. Consider talking to other people who have undergone the procedure to see how they have coped.
What is a thymectomy?
A thymectomy is a surgical procedure to treat MG. For many people with MG, an organ called the thymus is large and not working properly. The thymus is in the upper front of the chest behind the sternum. It produces certain white blood cells that protect the body from viruses and infections.1
Thymus abnormalities often cause autoimmune conditions like myasthenia gravis. These may be linked to thymus cancer, called thymoma. About 10 percent of people with MG have thymomas. Everyone with thymomas is recommended to have their thymus surgically removed.1,2
The benefits of the procedure may not occur for 1 to 2 years after the procedure. About 70 percent of people experience complete remission or reduced need for medicine within a year. People who have a thymectomy are twice as likely to experience remission as those who only have medical treatment.1
Will there be a scar?
The thymus is usually removed through the breast bone (transsternal). In this procedure, doctors make an incision over the sternum and divide the breastbone to expose the thymus. They will then remove the thymus through this incision.1
This incision leaves a visible scar from the neck to the middle of the chest. After the surgery, the scar may be dark and red. Over time, the scar will fade and become faint. Talk to your doctor about how to take care of your scar.3
Other thymectomy techniques may be less invasive but are usually only used in people without thymomas. For example, the thymus can be removed through a small neck incision (transcervical). It also can be removed using video-assisted techniques, which require several tiny incisions instead of 1 large one. Talk to your doctor about which technique is best for you.1
How do I cope with this?
Everyone with a thymectomy scar copes with it differently. The operation usually improves symptoms, but the visible scar impacts everyone differently. For example, some people say that the scar affects their interactions with other people.
It is completely up to you how you handle the scar. Some people prefer to cover the scar. Some methods that people have used to cover a thymectomy scar include:4
- High-cut tops
- Makeup or concealer
Other people prefer to leave the scar visible and find that it adds visibility to their invisible struggle. It may help your outlook and stress levels to embrace it as a badge of what you overcame instead of looking at it as a reminder of pain.4,5
Consider joining a support group to hear how other people cope with the scar, and take care of your mental health by talking to a therapist or counselor. They can help you develop techniques to prepare for and cope with situations in your life.
Is there research on new techniques?
Video-assisted techniques scar less because the incisions are much smaller. However, it may not be possible to remove an enlarged thymus through a tiny incision.
In 1 case report, doctors overcame this issue by slicing the thymus into small pieces inside a specimen bag before removing it. The surgery had no complications and reduced the person’s need for medicines. It also had good cosmetic results with minimal scarring.6,7
Thymectomy techniques like this will hopefully become available to people with MG. This may lead people with MG to undergo the procedure earlier, which may improve outcomes.
Have you found it difficult to discuss your diagnosis or symptoms with loved ones?