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Chest Wall Tumors

What are Chest Wall Tumors?

The chest cavity—which houses the lungs, heart, and other vital body parts—is a bone-and-muscle cage framed by the sternum (breastplate), spine, and ribs. 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). Benign tumors of the chest wall are not uncommon. Cancerous tumors, on the other hand, are rare; they account for only 5% of all thoracic malignancies.

Depending on the type and characteristics of a chest wall tumor, it might present a serious problem or no problem at all. A malignant tumor, of course, is a serious problem. Even a benign tumor—based on its size, location, and rate of growth—can create difficulties. For example, a large benign tumor can press against a lung and interfere with proper breathing. The majority of benign tumors, however, show no symptoms, present no cause for alarm, and very often remain undetected.

The Mechanics of Chest Wall Tumors

Chest wall tumors, whether malignant or benign, are classified as primary or secondary (metastatic). Primary tumors originate in the bone or muscle of the chest wall. Secondary tumors originate elsewhere in the body and spread (metastasize) to the chest wall. Virtually 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.

The tendency to develop benign tumors can run in families. There are cases of people who experience multiple or recurring benign tumors eventually developing a malignant tumor. Survival rates from malignant tumors in the chest area vary, depending on the stage at which the tumor is identified and treated.

Symptoms of Chest Wall Tumors

People with malignant chest wall tumors might experience one or more of the following:

  • Pain or soreness
  • Swelling
  • Impaired movement or chest expansion
  • Protrusion as with a lump

People with benign chest wall tumors might experience one or more of the following:

  • Protrusion as with a lump
  • Pain (with certain types)
  • Muscle atrophy (with certain types)

Causes of Chest Wall Tumors

While diet and lifestyle choices, as well as hereditary factors, are thought to be behind certain tumors, there are no clear causes of tumors affecting the bones and muscles of the chest wall.

Diagnosing Chest Wall Tumors

The process usually begins with a complaint of pain or pressure from the patient. After conducting a general exam, the physician likely will order an x-ray. But x-rays tend to show only that there is an abnormality. They aren’t necessarily able to indicate whether the tumor is malignant or benign. A CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan can zero in on the location and size of the tumor, as well as give some information about what type it is.

Once this preliminary information is collected, steps will be taken to conduct a biopsy—that is, to remove and examine a sample of the tumor. The most common procedure is an aspiration biopsy, in which a needle is inserted into the tumor and cells are removed for examination. Sometimes, if it’s difficult or impossible to get at the tumor cells using a needle, the patient might undergo an open biopsy, a surgical procedure that can leave a small scar. It is from these cell samples that the tumor is fully diagnosed.

Treating Chest Wall Tumors

Treatments are as varied as the chest wall tumors they’re designed to address. In the case of malignant chest wall tumors, treatment options are similar to those for other forms of cancer. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgical removal might be recommended. Some benign tumors might have to be removed if they interfere with proper organ function, hinder movement, cause muscles to atrophy, or underlie unsightly exterior features.

In cases where surgery is called for, prosthesis reconstruction or soft tissue replacement can be a recommended follow-up procedure to help restore normalcy to the chest’s structure, appearance, and function.

Rumors of Tumors
Three out of every four chest wall tumors are nothing more than a painless mass of out-of-place cells. A large number of the rest won’t ever cause a problem. But the small percentage of chest wall tumors that are malignant can be devastating. If you experience any of the symptoms of chest wall tumors, see your doctor immediately.