Chest Wall Tumor

Chest wall tumors are growths that form in your chest wall, which is the protective structure surrounding your heart, lungs and liver. They may be cancerous or noncancerous. The most common type of cancerous chest wall tumor in adults is chondrosarcoma. Treatments include surgery to remove the tumor and chest wall reconstruction.


What is a chest wall tumor?

A chest wall tumor is a growth that develops in the protective structure surrounding your heart, lungs and liver. Your chest wall is made of:

  • Soft tissues (muscles, nerves, fascia).
  • Bone.
  • Cartilage.

Tumors can form in any of these components. However, they’re most likely to form in bone (especially your ribs) or cartilage.

There are two main groups of chest wall tumors:

  • Primary chest wall tumors: Begin in your chest wall.
  • Secondary chest wall tumors: Begin somewhere else in your body and spread to your chest wall.

Primary chest wall tumors may be either cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Secondary chest wall tumors are always cancerous.

About 60% of all chest wall tumors are cancerous.


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Are chest wall tumors common?

Primary chest wall tumors affect fewer than 1 in 50 people. About 5% of all tumors in the chest area are primary chest wall tumors.

Who does a chest wall tumor affect?

Chest wall tumors affect people of all ages, from infancy through adulthood. Some types are more common among children, while other types are more common among adults.

When you’re younger, you’re more likely to have small or noncancerous tumors. As you get older, especially above age 40, you’re more likely to have large or cancerous tumors.


What are the different types of chest wall tumors?

Types of primary noncancerous chest wall tumors include:

Types of primary cancerous chest wall tumors include:

  • Chondrosarcoma: Forms in cartilage and can spread to bones, usually your ribs or breastbone (sternum).
  • Ewing’s sarcoma: Forms in bone or soft tissue around bone, often a single rib, and usually occurs in children and adolescents.
  • Fibrosarcoma: Forms in soft tissue and usually occurs in young adults.
  • Liposarcoma: Forms in fatty tissue.
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma: Forms in soft tissue and usually occurs in people who are in their 50s or 60s.
  • Myeloma: Forms in bone, usually in adults over age 40.
  • Osteosarcoma: Forms in bone and is more aggressive than chondrosarcoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: Forms in soft tissue and usually occurs in children and adolescents.

Cancerous tumors can also spread to your chest wall from other parts of your body. These are called secondary chest wall tumors, and they can spread from your:

What is the most common chest wall tumor?

The most common type of cancerous chest wall tumor in adults is chondrosarcoma. Among babies, Ewing’s sarcoma is the most common type.

The most common types of noncancerous chest wall tumors are:

  • Chondroma.
  • Fibrous dysplasia.
  • Osteochondroma.


Symptoms and Causes

What does a chest wall tumor feel like?

Symptoms of chest wall tumors vary widely. You may not feel any symptoms until the tumor is at an advanced stage. If you do have symptoms, they can vary depending on the type of tumor you have. Signs and symptoms you may notice include:

What causes chest wall tumors?

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes chest wall tumors. But in some cases, genetics seem to play a role. Also, lifestyle factors may raise your risk, especially for secondary chest wall tumors. For example, lung cancer can spread to your chest wall. So, smoking increases your risk for lung cancer, as well as for chest wall tumors.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are chest wall tumors diagnosed?

Healthcare providers use imaging tests and biopsies to diagnose chest wall tumors. Your provider will run these tests if you report symptoms that signal you may have a tumor. Sometimes, providers diagnose chest wall tumors through imaging tests (X-ray, CAT scan, MRI) that were run for other reasons. These are called incidental diagnoses, meaning your provider was looking for something else and found a tumor in the process.

Tests that diagnose chest wall tumors

Imaging tests that diagnose chest wall tumors include:

Sometimes, imaging tests confirm the diagnosis. But if not, you may need a biopsy as well. Your provider will tell you if you’ll have a needle biopsy or another form.

Management and Treatment

What is the treatment for chest wall tumors?

Treatment for chest wall tumors usually includes:

  • Surgery (resection) to remove the tumor.
  • Reconstructive surgery to repair the damage the tumor caused to your chest wall.

If the tumor is cancerous, you may also need:

Your provider will explain the best timing for your treatments. For example, your provider may recommend you have chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor before its removal.

What happens after my treatment?

Your provider will explain your follow-up plan and tell you how often you need to come in for appointments.

As you recover, follow your provider’s guidance on:

  • Activity restrictions.
  • Chest physiotherapy (exercises that help you recover and regain your strength).
  • How to care for your surgical wound.


How can I prevent chest wall tumors?

You may not be able to prevent chest wall tumors. But you can lower your risk of many forms of cancer with lifestyle changes, including:

  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products.
  • Get recommended vaccines, including the HPV vaccine.
  • Get screening tests as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk for various cancers and what lifestyle changes you should make.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with chest wall tumors?

Your outlook following chest wall tumor treatment depends on many factors, including:

  • How much of the tumor can be removed.
  • How much the tumor has spread.
  • Tumor grade and size.
  • Tumor type.

Because outcomes vary widely, it’s important to talk with your provider about your specific prognosis.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider if you have any symptoms of a chest wall tumor. They’ll talk with you about your symptoms and your family history, and they may run tests to investigate further.

If your provider diagnoses you with a chest wall tumor, follow their guidance for treatment. After treatment, it’s essential that you keep your follow-up screenings and appointments. Chest wall tumors can come back even after successful removal. So, early detection and treatment for recurrences can help improve your long-term prognosis.

What questions should I ask my provider?

If you’ve been diagnosed with a chest wall tumor, ask your provider:

  • What type of tumor do I have?
  • Is the tumor cancerous?
  • What’s the survival rate for my type of tumor?
  • What treatments do I need?
  • What are the risks and side effects of treatment?
  • What’s the success rate for this treatment?
  • What will my recovery look like?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you have a chest wall tumor, your outcome can vary widely depending on the type of tumor and how much it’s spread. Talk with your healthcare provider about your specific situation and what you can expect. Early detection of chest wall tumors gives you the best chance of successful treatment and a healthy long-term outlook.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/12/2022.

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