Cardiac tumors or growths that grow within the heart or heart valves can be either malignant or benign. These tumors that begin in the heart muscle itself are considered primary tumors and do not often move out of their original location. Other tumors that begin in other parts of the body and metastasize back into the heart or heart valves are called secondary tumors. Regardless of whether or not your tumor is benign or malignant, there is a good chance that the tumor will indeed cause problems within your heart. If the tumor’s size does not hinder a regular heartbeat and blood pressure, there is a chance with this type of tumor that it can break apart and release small pieces into your bloodstream and cause an embolism. This is a very dangerous type of tumor and cancer, as the heart is one of the most delicate organs in the body and does not always heal as well as other areas.
In some cases, the person may have developed cardiac tumors from other conditions. Some of these conditions are NAME Syndrome, LAMB Syndrome or Carney Syndrome. These tumors, as any other tumor in the body, are made up of an overgrowth of cells due to damaged cells. The rarity of actual heart cancer is very slim. Mayo Clinics report that in one year of service, one case of heart cancer is seen per year (Mayo).
What types of cardiac tumors are there?
There are two main types of cardiac tumors and they are primary and secondary tumors.
Primary tumors occur only in one out of one-thousand people and the most common type is called a myxoma. Any human of any age can develop a myxoma, but these are more common in women than men. These tumors are usually found in the left atrium, or upper left quadrant of the heart, at the atrial septum; which is where the two chambers divide in the heart. Primary tumors can grow anywhere inside of the heart, but this would be very rare. Nearly ten percent of myxomas are hereditary or develop as a result of other diseases.
The most common types of benign primary tumors are fibromas, rhabdomyomas, hemangiomas, teratomas, lipomas, paragangliomas, or pericardial cysts. Malignant primary tumors include pericardial mesothelioma, primary lymphoma, and sarcomas.
Secondary cardiac tumors are actually more common than primary tumors and do not start or begin in the heart. These tumors move from other areas in the body and take residence in the heart. More often than not, these tumors come form the lungs, breasts, stomach, colon, liver or kidneys. These tumors can also be related to lymphoma, leukemia, or melanomas.
What are the signs and symptoms of a cardiac tumor or cardiac cancer?
In most cases, patients do not know they have a cardiac tumor until they are having testing done for other heart or body related issues. During the echocardiogram testing, which is a test that takes an internal look at your heart and its function, find the most cardiac tumors. These tumors can become calcified over time and in this case, can also be seen on an x-ray. The average age for cardiac tumor diagnosis is between fifty and sixty years old, however, they can happen or occur at any age.
Here are the major signs and symptoms of a cardiac tumor:
- Fainting, lightheadedness or dizziness
- Palpitations or rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing when lying flat or when asleep
- Chest pain or tightness in the chest
- Fever or cough
- Involuntary weight loss
- Joint Pain
- Raynaud’s Phenomenon
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, abdomen or hands
- Fingernail curvature with enlargement in the tissues around the nail bed
- A cardiac tumor has the potential and ability to obstruct blood flow through the heart itself, which leads to a decrease in blood pumping into the body for circulation. This can mimic heart failure symptoms.
- A cardiac tumor can cause weak functioning of the heart valves by causing a narrowing of the valves (valvular stenosis) and leaking (regurgitation) within the heart.
Some of these symptoms can mimic a cardiac tumor, and end up being something more like endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart sac which can cause similar issues. There are a few slight symptoms that could tip off a problem if they are persistent enough. Shortness of breath, lightheadedness and a cough can signify a build up of pressure or a general blockage from an embolism style cell-break. The inflammation that these tumors cause can also trigger a fever with growing joint pain, or just feel generally uneasy and unwell.
What tests can prove or disprove a cardiac tumor?
Most doctors use common tests like the echocardiogram, a computed tomography scan (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or radionuclide imaging. If a cardiac tumor is suspected, any of these tests might be performed:
- Chest x-ray
- Blood tests
- Echocardiogram, or an “echo” test.
- Electrocardiogram, or an ECG or EKG.
- Cardiac catheterization
- Heart Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI
- Tomography, or CT or CAT scan.
- Coronary angiography
How will my cardiac tumor be treated?
Due to the nature of the tumor and risks of leaving the tumor to obstruct blood flow, surgery and removal of the tumor is normally the best treatment option. Cardiac tumor surgery is dependent on how the tumor is affecting the body, and if any other organs, organ system or body functions are being disturbed. Removal of these tumors is usually done via open heart surgery, although technology and medical advancements now offer more of a robotic approach.
During the surgery, the tumor and surrounding tissues are removed until clear margins are found. This is a complex and complicated surgery as it requires a heart and lung machine to be used. The heart-lung machine will be used to help still your heart for the delicate excision of the tumor. Recovery after this surgery is typically four to five days in the hospital and six weeks thereafter. If a robotic method was used to remove your tumor, your recovery time will be shorter and less complex. After the removal and healing, you will need a routine echocardiogram every year to make sure that the tumor has not returned.
The heart can be affected by many different things, from the benign to the malignant, from the easily fixed to the life-long changes required to life decisions. If at any time you suspect you are having heart issues, troubles, or even a possible cardiac tumor, make great strides to see your doctor immediately to ensure treatment can start as soon as possible for the best possible outcome for your life.