What Is Chest Wall Cancer?

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Chest wall cancer is cancer of the bone, cartilage, or soft tissue that protects and supports the organs in the chest cavity. The chest wall is made up of the bones of the spine, ribs, and sternum, as well as the muscles, fat, connective tissues, and nerves attached to them.

Primary chest wall cancer arises directly from these tissues and may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Other types of tumors can spread from other tissues in the body, such as the nearby lung or breast, or metastasize (spread) from tissues elsewhere in the body.

This article will discuss the types, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of chest wall cancer.

Doctor reviewing X-ray with patient

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Types of Chest Wall Cancer

Chest wall cancer is categorized based on the type of tissue that the cancer develops from. Below is a list of the most common types of chest wall tumors.

Benign Chest Wall Tumors

  • Osteochondroma: A type of bone tumor
  • Chondroma: Cartilage tumor, usually from the cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum
  • Fibrous dysplasia: Tumor involving bone, usually on the side or back of the ribs
  • Eosinophilic granuloma: A type of bone tumor
  • Lipoma: Arises from fatty tissue
  • Fibroma: Tumor of connective tissue
  • Hemangioma: Tumor of blood vessels
  • Neurogenic tumor: Arises from nerves
  • Desmoid tumor: Connective tissue tumor that can invade nearby structures

Malignant Chest Wall Tumors

  • Soft tissue sarcomas: Include malignant fibrous histiocytoma, liposarcoma, and neurofibrosarcoma
  • Chondrosarcomas: Malignant tumor of cartilage, usually on the front of the chest where the ribs and sternum connect
  • Osteosarcoma: Tumor of the bone
  • Ewing sarcoma: A group of bone and soft tissue tumors
  • Solitary plasmacytoma: Rare plasma-cell tumor in the bone
  • Liposarcoma: Tumor of fatty tissue

Non-Primary Chest Wall Tumors

Non-primary tumors are those that spread to the chest wall from other places. They include:

  • Locally invasive: Tumors that invade the chest wall from nearby tissues like the lungs or breast
  • Metastatic: Arise from cancer in tissues elsewhere in the body that has spread

Prevalence of Primary Chest Wall Cancer

Chest wall tumors make up about 5% of all cancers in the chest and affect less than 2% of people. About half of primary chest wall tumors are benign.

Chest Wall Cancer Symptoms

Chest wall tumors can cause pain, swelling, or a lump in the chest area that enlarges over time.

Up to one in five chest wall tumors may not have any symptoms. Instead, they are found when performing medical tests for another condition.


Most chest wall tumors are sporadic, meaning they develop randomly without any clear, direct cause.

Some types of chest wall tumors are associated with an inherited genetic mutation, like familial adenomatous polyposis (characterized by cancer of the large intestine and rectum).

Others, like chondrosarcoma, liposarcoma, and desmoid tumors, can be associated with previous trauma to the area.


Imaging tests are often used to identify chest wall tumors. These tests can include:

In order to know exactly what type of tumor it is, tissue from the tumor is removed in a procedure called a biopsy. The tissue sample is then sent to a lab for analysis and detection of cancer cells.


Treatment of chest wall cancer depends on the type of cancer. It can involve a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.

Almost all chest wall tumors require surgery to remove part of the chest wall or rib cage. The amount of tissue removed in surgery often requires reconstruction of the chest wall to maintain normal appearance and function.


The prognosis of chest wall cancer depends on the specific type of cancer.

Benign tumors generally have an excellent prognosis, without long-term serious side effects after removal.

The prognosis for malignant tumors is generally more serious since these tumors can spread to other organs and affect survival. However, the risk depends on the size and extent of the tumor when it is treated, and whether it can be completely removed with surgery.


Being diagnosed with chest wall cancer brings a host of both emotional and physical challenges. A diagnosis of cancer can create feelings of fear, sadness, and anger. Dealing with the physical symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment and surgery can bring further stress.

A support system can help with these feelings of fear and isolation. Staying as active as possible, getting consistent sleep, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress are important to maintaining both mental and physical health.

A Word From Verywell

Learning you or a loved one has been diagnosed with chest wall cancer can be a scary and emotional time. Know that your treatment team has expertise in treating cancer and has your best interest and well-being in mind. They are available to address your questions and concerns.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Shah AA, D'Amico TA. Primary chest wall tumors. J Amer Coll Surgeons. 2009;210(3):360-366. doi:10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2009.11.012

  3. University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Chest wall tumors.

By Angela Ryan Lee, MD
Angela Ryan Lee, MD, is board-certified in cardiovascular diseases and internal medicine. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and holds board certifications from the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and the National Board of Echocardiography. She completed undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia with a B.S. in Biology, medical school at Jefferson Medical College, and internal medicine residency and cardiovascular diseases fellowship at the George Washington University Hospital. Her professional interests include preventive cardiology, medical journalism, and health policy.