Cardiac tumors are abnormal growths in the tissue of the heart. Some of these are primary tumors, which originate in the heart itself, while others are secondary tumors and have spread (metastasized) from primary tumors in nearby organs such as the lungs.
While the majority of primary heart tumors are noncancerous, even benign varieties can lead to serious health problems if they interfere with the normal function of the heart. These complications can include heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or heart murmurs. Over time, tumors may also degenerate, which may cause pieces to break off and lodge in small arteries, resulting in a blockage of blood flow to vital organs.
Diagnosing Cardiac Tumors
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 with computed tomography (CT scan) or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be used as well as angiography.
Houston Methodist Hospital has the largest cardiac sarcoma program and one of the largest primary heart tumor programs worldwide. Our patients have access to a combination of novel treatments and approaches unavailable anywhere else, which result in superior outcomes year after year. Each patient’s plan of care is designed under the direction of a unique multidisciplinary team comprised of imaging specialists, cardiologists, oncologists, and surgeons from Houston Methodist as well as the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Types of Cardiac Tumors
Primary heart tumors are often benign, noncancerous, and may include the following:
- Myxoma, the most common primary benign heart tumor, typically found in the left atrial chamber
- Papillary fibroelastoma, often arises in or around the heart valves
- Cardiac paraganglioma, usually involves the roof of the left atrium
- Hemangioma, can arise from the pericardium, ventricles, atria or tricuspid valve
- Lipoma, composed of fatty tissue; most do not cause symptoms but are often removed because of risk of malignancy
- Fibroma, a large, nodular, gray-white 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
Malignant heart tumors include the following:
- Angiosarcoma is an aggressive tumor that originates in the lining of the blood vessels; this is the most common type of malignant primary heart tumor
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma, soft tissue sarcoma most commonly occurs between the ages of 50 and 70
- Leiomyosarcoma is cancer of the smooth muscle cells found in the involuntary muscles, such as the heart
- Rhabdomyosarcoma, a fast-growing tumor that accounts for over half of the soft tissue sarcomas in children
Symptoms of Cardiac Tumors
Heart tumors can be asymptomatic or may include symptoms similar to other heart diseases, such as:
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Fainting or dizziness
- Out of breath with activity
- Difficulty breathing when lying flat or asleep
- Persistent cough
- Discoloration of fingers when pressed or cold
- Swelling in any part of the body
- Weight loss without cause
Treatment of Cardiac Tumors
In many cases, noncancerous primary heart tumors can be surgically removed. In other cases different surgical procedures may be possible to assist heart function for larger noncancerous primary heart tumors that cannot be removed.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually used to attack malignant heart tumors, because they cannot be removed surgically. In some cases, drugs can be injected into the pericardial area (the sac around the heart) to slow tumor growth.
Doctors may also prescribe drugs to manage complications and to control pain associated with cancerous tumors.
At Houston Methodist a multidisciplinary team works with each individual patient to determine the best course of treatment and ensure the best possible care.