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Thymoma is an uncommon cancer often associated with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder of the neuromuscular junction characterized by muscular fatigability. In patients with advanced nonmetastatic thymoma, primary chemotherapy may be required to induce tumor shrinkage and to achieve radical resection. Cancer chemotherapy has been anecdotally reported as a trigger factor for worsening of myasthenia gravis in thymic epithelial cancers. The study of uncommon cases of chemotherapy-related myasthenic crisis is warranted to gain knowledge of clinical situations requiring intensive care support in the case of life-threatening respiratory failure. We report a case of an 18-year-old Caucasian woman with advanced Masaoka-Koga stage III type B2 thymoma and myasthenia gravis on treatment with pyridostigmine, steroids and intravenous immunoglobulins, who developed a myasthenic crisis 2 hours after initiation of cyclophosphamide/doxorubicin/cisplatin primary chemotherapy. Because of severe acute respiratory failure, emergency tracheal intubation, mechanical ventilation, and temporary (2 hours) discontinuation of chemotherapy were needed. Considering the curative intent of the multimodal therapeutic program, we elected to resume primary chemotherapy administration while the patient remained on mechanical ventilation. After 24 hours, the recovery of adequate respiratory function allowed successful weaning from respiratory support, and no further adverse events occurred. After 3 weeks, upon plasma exchange initiation with amelioration of myasthenic symptoms, a second course of chemotherapy was given, and in week 6, having documented partial tumor remission, the patient underwent radical surgery (R0) and then consolidation radiation therapy with 50.4 Gy in 28 fractions in weeks 15-20. This case report, together with the only four available in a review of the literature, highlights that chemotherapy may carry the risk of myasthenic crisis in patients affected by thymoma and myasthenia gravis. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of chemotherapy continuation on mechanical ventilation in a patient with chemotherapy-induced myasthenic crisis requiring tracheal intubation. The lesson learned from the present case is that, in selected cases of advanced thymoma, the paradoxical worsening of myasthenia gravis during chemotherapy should not be considered an absolute contraindication for the continuation of primary chemotherapy with curative intent.


Giorgio Patelli, Katia Bencardino, Federica Tosi, Mariateresa Pugliano, Francesca Lanzani, Alessandro Innocenti, Alessandro Rinaldo, Gianluca Mauri, Giulio Cerea, Andrea Sartore-Bianchi, Massimo Torre, Elio Clemente Agostoni, Salvatore Siena. Chemotherapy-induced myasthenic crisis in thymoma treated with primary chemotherapy with curative intent on mechanical ventilation: a case report and review of the literature. Journal of medical case reports. 2021 Feb 02;15(1):32

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PMID: 33526108

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