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.
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 may be either cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Secondary chest wall tumors are always cancerous.
About 60% of all chest wall tumors are cancerous.
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.
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.
Types of primary noncancerous chest wall tumors include:
Types of primary cancerous chest wall tumors include:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Imaging tests that diagnose chest wall tumors include:
Treatment for chest wall tumors usually includes:
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.
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:
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:
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk for various cancers and what lifestyle changes you should make.
Your outlook following chest wall tumor treatment depends on many factors, including:
Because outcomes vary widely, it’s important to talk with your provider about your specific prognosis.
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.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a chest wall tumor, ask your provider:
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/12/2022.
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