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Thoracic Tumors

Thoracic tumors are any tumors located in the organs, glands, or structures of your thoracic cavity or chest.

Some of the most common thoracic cancers are:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer: About 85 percent of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs). These cancers include:

    • Adenocarcinoma: Starting in the mucus-secreting cells in the lungs.
    • Squamous cell carcinoma: Starting in the lung’s lining cells.
    • Large cell carcinoma: Starting in any part of the lung.

  • Small-cell lung cancer: 10-15 percent of lung cancers are small-cell cancers. This kind of cancer can start anywhere in the lung and typically grows quickly.

  • Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma cancers begin in the pleura, peritoneum, or other “lining” tissues in the abdominal cavity.

  • Thymoma: Thymoma is a cancer originating in the thymus, a small organ that sits just under the breastbone and regulates the lymph system (which makes white blood cells).

Less common thoracic tumors:

  • Breast—benign or malignant.

  • Pancreatic—benign or malignant.

  • Esophageal (muscular tube connecting the throat with the stomach)—benign or malignant.

  • Mediastinal (membrane between two body cavities or organs in the chest like the lungs)—benign or malignant.

  • Chest wall—benign or malignant.

  • Metastatic (spread from other parts of the body)—malignant.

What happens once you have thoracic tumors?

Thoracic tumor symptoms vary based on the type of tumor and the tissue it affects. In the early stages of cancer, there are often no symptoms, and as a result, thoracic tumors can be hard to diagnose.

When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Fatigue.

  • Weakness.

  • Hoarseness.

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing.

  • Heartburn, indigestion, or vomiting.

  • Changes in a chronic cough or “smoker’s cough.”

  • Coughing up blood or bloody or rust-colored mucus.

  • A cough that does not go away or gets worse with time.

  • Unintentional weight loss or unexplained loss of appetite.

  • Chest pain that worsens with laughing, deep breathing, or coughing.

These symptoms are also common in other conditions. Seeing a doctor is the only way to know for sure that it is a thoracic tumor.

What causes thoracic tumors?

Malignant tumors form when DNA at the cellular level is damaged. When genes are damaged, they may mutate. These mutations then cause abnormal cell growth that can spread through the body.

For thoracic cancers, lifestyle factors like diet, body weight, and smoking play a role. Smoking also increases the risk of esophageal cancer. The more time you spend smoking, the higher your risk. Being around people who smoke also increases your risk.

Other common risk factors include: 

  • Family history of cancer.

  • Exposure to radiation and radioactive materials increases the likelihood of thoracic cancer.

  • Exposure to asbestos (common in mines, some factories, and shipyards, for example) increases the possibility of lung cancer.

  • Exposure to other carcinogens like arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, silica, coal, air pollution, and diesel fumes all raise cancer risk.

What types of tests are used to diagnose thoracic tumors?

If you have several risk factors for thoracic cancer, such as family history, workplace exposures, or history of smoking, your doctor may recommend preventive screenings even if you do not have symptoms.

Some standard diagnostic tests include:

  • Chest X-ray.

  • Biopsies to test small tissue samples and look for cancer.

  • Physical examination, including listening to your lungs and talking with you about any unusual symptoms you’ve noticed.

  • CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, bone scans, and other imaging tests to look for abnormalities in your chest cavity.

  • Sputum analysis to see whether cells from the mucus you cough up from your lungs show evidence of cancer.

  • Thoracentesis to analyze any fluid that has built up in the lungs (also called pleural effusion).

  • Bronchoscopy, thoracoscopy, mediastinoscopy, or mediastinotomy are tests that use a small tube with a camera on end to give your doctor a close-up view of structures in your chest.

  • Lung function tests to measure how well your lungs are providing oxygen to your blood and whether you’re healthy enough for lung surgery.

What types of treatments and procedures are used to treat thoracic tumors?

Thoracic treatment options vary according to the type of tumors you have. Your doctor may recommend the following treatments:

  • Surgery to cut out the tumor(s).

  • Radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing.

  • Targeted therapy to destroy cancer by using markers on cancer cells.

What can I do to support my health when I have thoracic tumors?

Steps you can take to slow the progression of cancer:

  • Attend regular physical exams.
  • Take your medications as prescribed.
  • Reduce your exposure to toxic substances wherever possible.
  • Maintain your overall health through diet and regular exercise.
  • Use proper protective equipment, like masks, to avoid inhaling coal dust, silica, or other known carcinogens that can reduce your risk.
  • Stop smoking. Avoiding cigarettes and tobacco products of all kinds is the best way, by far, to reduce the risk of thoracic cancers. If you currently smoke, the faster you quit, the better.

Why choose Presbyterian for thoracic tumor treatment?

Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Care has a team of highly skilled surgeons who are using some of the most trusted and advanced surgical techniques. Their surgical team can help you decide what treatment is best for you and help you prepare for your procedure.

Doctor holding patient's hand in hospital.

Presbyterian Heart & Vascular Care Providers

Our team of highly skilled doctors and clinicians offers a full range of heart-related services from diagnosis and treatment to monitoring.

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