Like any other part of the body, the walls of the chest cavity are susceptible to tumors. A tumor is any type of abnormal growth of cells, whether malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Chest wall tumors can interfere with pulmonary function.

Cancerous tumors are uncommon. Chest wall tumors, whether malignant (cancerous) or benign (non cancerous), are classified as primary or secondary (metastatic). The most common benign tumors are osteochondromas and chrondromas. The most common malignant chest wall tumors are sarcomas.

Primary tumors originate in the bone or muscle of the chest wall. Less than half of malignant chest wall tumors are primary. Secondary tumors originate elsewhere in the body and spread (metastasize) to the chest wall. Almost all secondary tumors are malignant. Most chest wall tumors found in children are primary, while most found in adults are secondary. All of these tumors tend to be a lump on the chest wall surface or a growth that invades the bone or muscle.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Chest Wall Tumors

Symptoms of benign chest wall tumors may include one or more of the following:

  • A localized mass
  • Swelling
  • Chest Pain
  • Muscle atrophy (breakdown)

Symptoms of malignant chest wall tumors may include one or more of the following:

  • A localized mass
  • Swelling
  • Chest Pain
  • Impaired movement or chest expansion
Risk Factors

Causes

While hereditary factors, diet and lifestyle choices may play a role in certain tumor types, there are no clear causes of chest wall tumors.

Diagnosis

Tests and Diagnosis

  • Imaging:
    • The physician will initially order an x-ray to see if there is an abnormality. If there is an abnormality shown on x-ray, your physician will then do a CT scan (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to gain additional information about the chest wall abnormality, such as size and location.
  • Biopsy:
    • After this information is collected, a biopsy of the abnormality is done to diagnose what the tumor is and to determine if the tumor is benign or malignant. The most common procedure is an aspiration biopsy, in which a needle is inserted into the tumor and cells are removed for examination. If it is too difficult to reach the tumor with a needle, you may need to undergo an open biopsy, which requires a small surgical incision and may leave a scar.
Treatment

Treatment of Chest Wall Tumors

  • If the tumor is benign, the tumor may need surgical removal if the tumor interferes with proper organ function, hinders movement, or causes muscles to atrophy.
  • If the tumor is malignant, treatment can include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgical removal and reconstruction.
    • A portion of the rib cage must frequently be removed to eradicate a chest wall tumor; very effective reconstruction (replacement) of the chest wall using adjacent muscle, mesh or mesh with “plastic” material is available. The amount of chest wall that must be removed, the proposed method of reconstruction, and associated risks and benefits of the operation are reviewed by the surgeon with the patient, prior to scheduling the procedure.

Possible Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Will my condition ever get better without treatment? Can it get worse?

  1. What are my treatment options?
  2. Will I need surgery?
  3. What are the potential side effects of this treatment?
  4. How often do you do the procedure that you’ve recommended for me?
  5. What is the success rate for that specific procedure?
  6. When should I seek medical attention if I am experiencing symptoms following surgery?
  7. Will I have any restrictions after treatment? (activity, driving, etc)
  8. Will I have to be out of work? If so, for how long?
  9. Will I have to change my diet and/or lifestyle after treatment?
  10. Will I have to take any long-term medications?
  11. How likely is it that I will need additional treatment later?
  12. If I want a second opinion, how would I get one?
  13. Where is my chest wall tumor located?
  14. Is it cancerous? If yes, what is the survival rate for my particular kind of cancer?
  15. How do I get a copy of my pathology report?
  16. Are there any clinical trials relevant to my cancer that I can look into?