Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Thymus: neoplasia

Synonym(s): Thymoma, Thymic lymphoma

Contributor(s): Brendan Carmel, Joanna Hedley, David Perpinan


  • The thymus of rabbits is large, persists into adulthood, and is located in the cranial mediastinum. 
  • Benign (thymoma) and malignant (thymic lymphoma, thymic carcinoma) neoplasms have been reported. Thymomas are more common.
  • Cause: unknown. Genetics or previous infections have been suggested as predisposing factors in some cases.
  • Signs: clinical signs are generally associated with space-occupying mass in the mediastinum.
  • Diagnosis: based on clinical signs, imaging and cytology/histology.
  • Treatment: radiation therapy is now the treatment of choice, although surgery also available.
  • Prognosis: relatively good with radiation therapy.

Presenting signs

  • Dyspnea - generally progressive, but it can go unnoticed by owners until the rabbit presents with an acute onset of dyspnea, tachypnea and open mouth breathing.
  • Exercise intolerance.
  • Anorexia and lethargy (with consequent gastrointestinal stasis Gastric dilation and stasis in some cases).
  • Bilateral exophthalmos Eye: exophthalmos and prolapse of the third eyelid .
  • Swelling/edema of head, neck and forelimbs has also been seen due to impaired venous return to the heart.

Acute presentation

  • The condition can be presented acutely, probably due to inability of owners to detect more chronic signs such as exercise intolerance and tachypnea.

Age predisposition

  • May be more common in older rabbits (older than 3 years old).
  • Median age of presentation is 6 years old.

Public health considerations

  • Thymomas can be concurrent with other zoonotic infections such as mycobacteriosis.

Cost considerations

  • Advance imaging techniques, surgery and radiation therapy may be very expensive.

Special risks, eg anesthetic

  • Surgical treatment is technically challenging and carries high risk of complications.
  • Radiation therapy involves repeated frequent anesthetic episodes.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Dolera M, Malfassi L, Mazza G et al (2016) Feasibility for using hypo fractionated stereotactic volumetric modulated arc radiotherapy (VMAT) with adaptive planning for treatment of thymoma in rabbits: 15 cases. Vet Radiol Ultrasound 57 (3), 313-320 PubMed.
  • Andres K M, Kent M, Siedlecki C T et al (2012) The use of megavoltage radiation therapy in the treatment of thymomas in rabbits: 19 cases. Vet Comp Oncol 10 (2), 82-94 PubMed.
  • Sanchez-Migallon D G, Mayer J, Gould J et al (2006) Radiation therapy for the treatment of thymoma in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). J Exotic Pet Med 15 (2), 138-144 VetMedResource.
  • Florizoone K (2005) Thymoma-associated exfoliative dermatitis in a rabbit. Vet Dermatol 16 (4), 281-284 PubMed.
  • Morrisey J K, McEntee M (2005) Therapeutic options for thymoma in a rabbit. Semin Avian Exotic Pet Med 14 (3), 175-181 VetMedResource.
  • Wagner F, Beinecke A, Fehr M et al (2005) Recurrent bilateral exophthalmos associated with metastatic thymic carcinoma in a pet rabbit. JSAP 46 (8), 393-7 PubMed.
  • Clippinger T L, Bennett R A, Alleman A R et al (1998) Removal of a thymoma via median sternotomy in a rabbit with recurrent appendicular neurofibrosarcoma. JAVMA 213 (8), 1140-1143 PubMed.
  • Vernau K M, Grahn B H, Clarke-Scott H A et al (1995) Thymoma in a geriatric rabbit with hypercalcemia and periodic exophthalmos. JAVMA 206 (6), 820-2 PubMed.
  • Kostolich M & Panciera R J (1992) Thymoma in a domestic rabbit. Cornell Vet 82 (2), 125-129 VetMedResource.
  • Fox R R, Meier H, Crary D D et al (1971) Hemolytic anemia associated with thymoma in the rabbit. Genetic studies and pathological findings. Oncology 25 (4), 372-382 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Lewis W (2013) Mediastinal Masses and Other Thoracic Surgery. In: BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Surgery, Dentistry and Imaging. Gloucester, UK. pp 257-268.
  • Antinoff N (2009) Mediastinal Masses in Rabbits: Another Therapeutic Option. In: Proceedings of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. pp 67.
  • Bennett R A & Rosenthal K L (2007) Thymoma in Rabbits: Diagnosis and Treatment Options. In: Proc of NAVC. pp 1609-1611.
  • Quesenberry K (1997) Lymphoproliferative Disorders. In: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 2nd edn. Saunders, Philadelphia. pp 216-219.