Though cancer can cause chest pain in a 12 year old when only inhaling, this isn’t the most likely cause.
There are many other possibilities that explain why a seemingly healthy adolescent might experience chest pain when breathing in but not when exhaling or holding their breath. 12
“Pain in the chest with breathing in is described as pleuritic pain,” says Irene Tien, MD, a board-certified pediatric ER physician with Mass General Brigham in MA.
“This refers to inflammation of the pleura, which is the thin tissue overlying the surface of the lung.
“Pleuritic pain can be from a viral infection (aka viral pleurisy), bacterial infection (like pneumonia), pulmonary embolism (blood clot blocking a blood vessel in the lung causing death of the tissue beyond the blockage, causing inflammation of the surface of the lung), or fluid in the chest between the surface of the lung and the inside of the chest wall (pleural effusion), which can be from infections and rarely cancer.”
Not only is cancer as a cause of this symptom rare, but so is a pulmonary embolism.
A pulmonary embolism begins as a blood clot in a leg (deep vein thrombosis).
A piece of the DVT breaks off and within seconds is circulated to the veins leading to the lungs.
It can lodge inside a vein at some point and cause chest pain, even only during inhalation.
Children do get blood clots, but this is very unusual. They are more likely to contract an infection that causes pain in the chest only upon breathing in.
“Most of the time, pleuritic chest pain is actually chest wall pain from either a muscular strain or joint inflammation where the breast bone meets with the rib cage (aka costochondritis),” says Dr. Tien.
• Costo refers to the intercostal muscles of the ribs.
• Chond refers to cartilage.
• Itis means inflammation. 12
The condition is common among adult athletes, especially bodybuilders, but active kids are not immune to it.
The chest pain from costochondritis can be intense.
In practice for 20+ years, Dr. Tien is a leading medical voice on social media, providing the public with accurate information to empower them to live their healthiest life.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.