Cardiac Tumors

doctor reading heart tumor scans

Heart tumors, also called cardiac tumors, are abnormal growths in the tissue of the heart. These are sometimes primary tumors, meaning the tumor originated in the heart tissue itself. In other cases, they can be secondary tumors that have spread (metastasized) from cancer that began in a nearby organ, such as the lungs. 


While most primary heart tumors are noncancerous, even benign tumors can lead to serious health problems if they interfere with the normal function of the heart. 

Our Approach to Treating Heart Tumors 

Specialists at Houston Methodist work together to design the most effective heart tumor treatment plan for you specifically, ensuring the best possible care along the way. 


Our multidisciplinary team of heart tumor experts includes: 

  • Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons 
  • Medical, radiation and surgical oncologists 
  • Imaging specialists 
  • Houston Methodist is also home to the Heart Tumor Program, one of the largest in the world. Through this program, we provide access to advanced heart tumor treatment options and new approaches that may not be available anywhere else. 

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    About Heart Tumors

    How Is a Heart Tumor Diagnosed?

    Heart tumors can be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms resemble those of many other conditions.


    If a tumor is suspected, your doctor will most likely order an echocardiogram.


    Further imaging via computed tomography (CT scan) or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used, as well as angiography in some cases.

    What Are the Types of Heart Tumors?

    Primary heart tumors are often benign (noncancerous) and include:

    • Myxoma – the most common primary benign heart tumor, which is typically found in the left atrial chamber of the heart
    • Papillary fibroelastoma – often arises in or around the heart’s valves
    • Cardiac paraganglioma – usually involves the roof of the left atrium
    • Hemangioma – can arise from the pericardium, ventricles, atria or tricuspid valve
    • Lipoma – a growth composed of fatty tissue that may not cause symptoms but is often removed because of risk of malignancy
    • Fibroma – a large, nodular, whitish-gray tumor that is most common in infants and children
    • Castleman’s disease – a very rare disorder characterized by a benign heart tumor that may have developed in the lymph node tissue and then spread to the heart


    While most primary heart tumors are benign, they can still lead to serious health problems if they interfere with the function of the heart. These complications can include heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or heart murmurs. Over time, tumors may also degenerate, causing pieces to break off and lodge in small arteries, resulting in a blockage of blood flow to vital organs. 

    The types of malignant (cancerous) heart tumors include:

    • Angiosarcoma – the most common type of cancerous primary heart tumor, this is an aggressive type of tumor that originates in the lining of the blood vessels
    • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma – soft tissue sarcoma that most commonly occurs between the ages of 50 and 70
    • Leiomyosarcoma – cancer of the smooth muscle cells found in involuntary muscles, including the heart
    • Rhabdomyosarcoma – a fast-growing tumor that accounts for more than half of the soft tissue sarcomas in children

    What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Tumor?

    Heart tumors can be asymptomatic or may present with symptoms similar to other heart diseases, including:

    • Chest pain
    • Increased heart rate or palpitations
    • Fainting or dizziness
    • Shortness of breath, especially during activity
    • Difficulty breathing when lying flat or asleep
    • Persistent cough
    • Discoloration of fingers
    • Swelling in any part of the body
    • Unexplained weight loss

    What Are the Heart Tumor Treatment Options Available?

    Treatment options vary based on the specific type of heart tumor.


    Primary tumors that are noncancerous often can be surgically removed. If a noncancerous primary heart tumor can’t be removed, however, various surgical procedures can help assist heart function.


    Primary malignant cardiac tumors are extremely rare, and ours is one of the few teams with expertise treating them. In fact, our multidisciplinary group of heart tumor specialists makes up one of the most experienced teams worldwide in treating primary cardiac sarcoma and work together to design personalized treatment plans.


    The team’s surgical expertise is vast. Our surgeons have operated on more than 130 primary cardiac sarcomas and developed innovative surgical techniques — such as cardiac autotransplantation, partial autotransplantation and the “Texas Two Step” approach — to treat tumors requiring extensive cardiac and lung resections.

    An Inoperable Heart Tumor Turned Operable: Brian’s Story

    Brian Hodder was diagnosed with a heart tumor on his left pulmonary artery. While Brian's doctors in New Zealand and Australia deemed the tumor inoperable, doctors from Houston Methodist were able to successfully remove it. Read Brian’s story >