Radiology Review

Is Spreading Pain Due to Injury?

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A 53-year-old woman presents with complaints of right-side chest wall, neck, and shoulder pain. Her symptoms started two months ago, when she says she injured herself while doing yard work. She initially self-treated but subsequently went to various emergency departments and walk-in clinics on several occasions; no definitive diagnosis was established. Recently, she has noticed increasing weakness in her right arm and hand as well. Medical history is significant for hypertension. Family history is remarkable for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (mother). Social history reveals that the patient is a smoker, with a pack-a-day habit for at least 40 years. On physical exam, you note normal vital signs. The patient has good range of motion in her extremities; however, the strength in her right upper extremity is significantly diminished. Her deltoid, biceps, triceps, and hand grip are all about 2/5. She also notes a paresthesia along her right anterior chest wall, although sensation is intact. Chest radiograph is ordered (shown). What is your impression?



The radiograph shows a right apical mass. This clinical and radiographic presentation is strongly suggestive of a Pancoast tumor. Such lung masses (typically non–small cell carcinomas) can cause brachial plexus compression when they progress, which results in thoracic outlet obstruction and symptoms similar to those seen in this patient.

The patient was admitted by a hospitalist service, and further imaging did confirm the presence of a lung mass, as well as extension to the chest wall and cervicothoracic portion of the spinal canal. CT-guided biopsy of the mass is pending.

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