What is heart cancer?

Primary cancers of the heart, in which the cancer starts and develops in the heart, are very rare. Metastatic tumors in the heart, in which the cancer originated at another location and spread to the heart, occur twenty times more frequently than primary heart cancers, although they too are also not common. The American Cancer Society estimated that about 10,000 new cases of soft tissue cancers (including heart cancer) are diagnosed each year in the United States (Source:ACS).

Heart cancers can develop from any part of the heart. Benign myxomas are the most common tumor arising from within the heart. Even though their cellularity is benign they may still be lethal, as described below. In adults, the most common malignant heart cancers are angiosarcomas, which tend to develop in the right upper chamber of the heart (atrium). Angiosarcomas originate from cells that form the lining of blood vessels. When these cells become cancerous, they multiply and create irregular blood vessel-like masses that can bulge into the atrium and spread to adjacent structures.

Cardiac rhabdomyosarcoma is the second most common primary heart cancer in adults and the most common primary heart cancer in children. These tumors originate from muscle cells that have become cancerous. Rhabdomyosarcomas can develop anywhere in the heart but almost always involve at least a portion of the myocardium, the heart’s thick muscular layer. Less common types of primary heart tumors include cardiac liposarcomas, mesotheliomas, fibrosarcomas, fibrous histiocytomas and schwannomas.

Symptoms of heart cancer can resemble those of heart disease, such as chest pain, irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Sometimes these symptoms develop suddenly. Radiation and chemotherapy can be used to help manage symptoms. Sometimes surgery may also help control symptoms, but this is performed only at specialized centers.

The sudden onset of heart failure may be the first symptom of heart cancer. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, rapid or irregular heart rate, rapid breathing, cold and clammy skin, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, changes in level of consciousness, loss of consciousness, or anxiety. Seek prompt medical care for sudden unexpected weight gain, fatigue, or swelling in the feet and ankles.


What are the symptoms of heart cancer?

Initially, heart cancer may not have any symptoms. When symptoms develop, they often resemble those of heart disease. The symptoms of heart cancer can occur suddenly.

Common symptoms of heart cancer

Common symptoms of heart cancer include:


What causes heart cancer?

The cause of heart cancer is not known. As with any cancer, changes occur inside the cells, which lead to alteration of their function and uncontrollable growth. These types of changes can occur in any of the cells of the heart.

What are the risk factors for heart cancer?

Heart cancer is a very rare disease. Its risk factors have not yet been identified.

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How is heart cancer treated?

Treatments for heart cancer are designed to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Goal of cancer treatment

The goal of heart cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur or relapse later.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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