Chest Cancer | Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center | Loyola Medicine

Chest Cancer

Overview and Facts about Chest Cancer

Tumors can develop on the walls of the chest cavity. Most of these tumors are benign and not harmful, but some can be malignant (cancerous) and interfere with pulmonary (lung) function. Tumors are either primary (originate in the chest wall) or secondary (originate somewhere else in the body and spread to the chest wall). Almost all secondary tumors are malignant. 

Symptoms and Signs of Chest Cancer

The symptoms of a chest wall tumor, whether benign or malignant, include:

  • Pain or soreness     
  • A lump protruding from the chest                

Additionally, muscle atrophy may signify a benign tumor, whereas swelling and impaired movement or chest expansion points to a malignant tumor. If you experience any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to see your Loyola doctor for accurate diagnosis.

Causes and Risk Factors of Chest Cancer

It is not clear what causes chest wall tumors. Family history, dietary and lifestyle choices may affect cancer development, but are not proven links. Prior trauma, cancers or surgery in the chest wall area may damage the cells and cause them to behave abnormally, but the majority of chest wall tumors have no known associated risk factors.  

Tests and Diagnosis of Chest Cancer

After conducting a thorough physical exam and medical history, your doctor will order imaging tests such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to locate and measure the tumor. If a tumor is found, your doctor will need to perform a biopsy to determine if it is benign or malignant, and its stage if it is cancerous. A biopsy can either be done with a needle to remove cells in the tumor (aspiration) or as a surgical procedure (open). Aspiration biopsy is more common. 

Treatment and Care for Chest Cancer

Treatment for a chest wall tumor usually involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The tumor first needs to be removed via surgical resection. After surgery, soft tissue reconstruction is usually needed to restore the chest’s normal structure, appearance and function. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

This treatment is mostly used on malignant tumors, but some benign tumors might have to be removed if they interfere with proper organ function, hinder movement or cause muscles to atrophy.