About Cancers of the Chest

In addition to lung cancer, many other types of cancer affect the chest. They include:

Mediastinal growths: The mediastinum is a space in the chest cavity. It’s surrounded by the breastbone in the front, the spine in the back, and one lung on each side. When cancers and other benign or malignant abnormal growths populate this space, biopsy or removal is required.

Many patients have no symptoms, and the tumor is detected during radiologic examinations performed for other reasons. Other patients may develop a variety of symptoms that can include cough, shortness of breath or chest pain.

Left untreated, tumors or other growths in the mediastinum can press against or invade vital cardiovascular organs — including the heart or lining around the heart (pericardium), blood vessels such as the aorta, the esophagus, trachea or the spinal cord. Detailed radiologic evaluation is essential for defining the location and size of these abnormalities.

Thymus gland tumors: Positioned in the uppermost portion of the chest behind the sternum (breastbone), the thymus gland’s secretions help in the development of the lymph system and in the processing of white blood cells. The gland produces and programs the important T-cell lymphocytes.

Of the two types of tumors found in the thymus, thyomas grow slowly and rarely spread beyond the thymus and are associated with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder in which the body begins to produce antibodies that disrupt the ability of muscle to receive nerve signals. The thymus gland appears to play a role in the production of these antibodies and, in individuals with myasthenia gravis, the gland is enlarged with areas of precancerous cells or cancerous tumor tissue.

The second type of thymus tumor, thymic carcinomas, grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body.

Esophageal cancer: This cancer forms in the hollow, muscular tube (called the esophagus) that connects the throat to the stomach. Several layers of tissue form the wall of the esophagus, and cancer starts in the inner lining and spreads outward to other layers over time. Smoking, heavy alcohol use, and Barrett esophagus can all raise someone’s risk for developing esophageal cancer. Symptoms include painful or difficult swelling, weight loss, pain behind the breast bone, hoarseness, cough, and indigestion.

A Patient’s Perspective
Learn what one patient has to say about the Lourdes Cardiovascular Institute.
Types of Chest Cancers

  • Mediastinal Growths: This cancer starts in the mediastinum, the chest cavity just above the diaphragm and below the neck in the upper portion of the chest.
  • Thymus gland tumors: This cancer starts in the thymus gland, just behind the breastbone.
  • Esophageal cancer: Chronic acid reflux can raise your risk of abnormal cell growth in the esophagus, potentially leading to cancer.
Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
Treatments

  • Surgery can remove tumors as well the tissue around the tumors
  • Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill rapidly growing cells that have spread or that can’t be removed surgically. These drugs can be injected, given through a catheter, or taken orally.
  • Targeted agents are drugs that act against specific weaknesses in cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.

How We Can Help

Our cardiothoracic and oncology teams work closely together to develop the best treatment plan for each patient.

When surgery is needed, our cardiothoracic specialists emphasize the least invasive approaches possible. Often the team removes the growth via a mediastinoscopy or thoracoscopy. Video-assisted thoracoscopy, for example, requires only several small incisions and gives the surgeon and O.R. team a high-definition picture of the surgical area, which is operated upon using fine surgical instruments introduced through the incisions. Our surgical team is also skilled in the use of robotics, as well as experienced in traditional approaches.

Learn more about robotic and minimally invasive surgical approaches.