Treatments & Procedures
Cardiac tumors are abnormal growths in the tissue of the heart. Noncancerous tumors, referred to as myxomas, are typically found in one of the atrial (upper left or right) chambers, often attached to an inside wall by a stalk that may allow the tumor to move when the patient changes positions. Approximately 75 percent of patients with cardiac tumors are women in their mid-50s. Symptoms are typically related to valve obstruction, causing reduced blood flow and tumor-related embolic events.
Cancerous tumors of the heart are extremely uncommon, but they do occur. Some of these are primary tumors, originating in the heart, — the most common being an angiosarcoma — while secondary tumors have spread (metastasized) from primary tumors in nearby organs, such as the lungs, to the heart.
At Houston Methodist, we take a patient-centric approach to every case in order to achieve the best outcomes possible. While surgery is our specialty, we recognize that for many patients, chemotherapy, radiation, and other therapies play an equally vital role. If surgery is called for, our surgeons can perform resections whenever possible.
The most common non-surgical options for cardiac tumors are chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Chemotherapy refers to a category of drugs that kill rapidly dividing cells.
- Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill or control cancer cells.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually used to attack malignant heart tumors, because it can be difficult to remove them surgically. Depending on the location of the tumor, complete resection (removal) may not be possible using standard surgical techniques.
In some cases, drugs can be injected into the pericardial area (the sac surrounding the heart) to slow a tumor’s growth if this is the origin of the tumor. Doctors may also prescribe drugs to manage complications and control pain associated with cancerous tumors, including opiates and narcotics.
Surgeons at Houston Methodist are highly trained to perform resections ranging from simple to complex, including minimally invasive techniques. For myxomas, surgery is typically performed as soon as possible after discovery because of the potential for obstruction of blood flow, heart attacks and other cardiac events that may occur if the tumor continues to grow. In many cases these noncancerous primary heart tumors can be completely removed surgically. In other cases different surgical procedures may be possible to assist heart function for larger noncancerous primary heart tumors that cannot be removed.
For some cases where the tumor is hard to reach, an autotransplantation may be the best option. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the heart from the body, reconstructs it as needed following removal of the tumor and re-implants the heart. In fact, Dr. Michael J. Reardon, cardiovascular surgeon at the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, performed the first successful autotransplant in the world for a malignant heart tumor and is widely recognized as the preeminent expert in this technique.
While heart surgery is a serious procedure, many patients make a full recovery and go on to lead full and active lives soon after surgery.
Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in treating cardiac tumors at the following convenient locations.