Only a few cancers develop in the heart (see also Overview of Heart Tumors Overview of Heart Tumors A tumor is any type of abnormal growth, whether cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Tumors in the heart may be Primary (noncancerous or cancerous) Metastatic (always cancerous) Primary... read more ). Those that develop in the heart are called primary heart tumors. The most common primary cancerous heart tumors are sarcomas that develop from connective tissue.
Most cancerous heart tumors originate in some other part of the body—usually the lungs, breasts, kidneys, blood, or skin—and then spread (metastasize) to the heart. Metastatic heart tumors are 30 to 40 times more common than primary heart tumors but are still uncommon.
Cancers in the chest, such as lung or breast cancer, may spread to the heart by direct invasion, often into the sac that surrounds the heart (pericardium). Cancers may also spread to heart muscle and chambers through the bloodstream or through the lymph system Overview of the Lymphatic System The lymphatic system is a vital part of the immune system. It includes organs such as the thymus, bone marrow, spleen, tonsils, appendix, and Peyer patches in the small intestine that produce... read more .
The symptoms of cancerous heart tumors are essentially the same as those of noncancerous heart tumors Symptoms A tumor is any type of abnormal growth, whether cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Tumors in the heart may be Primary (noncancerous or cancerous) Metastatic (always cancerous) Primary... read more and vary depending on the tumor's location. However, the symptoms of cancerous tumors tend to worsen more quickly than those of noncancerous tumors because cancerous tumors grow much faster.
Symptoms include sudden development of heart failure Heart Failure (HF) Heart failure is a disorder in which the heart is unable to keep up with the demands of the body, leading to reduced blood flow, back-up (congestion) of blood in the veins and lungs, and/or... read more (causing shortness of breath and fatigue), abnormal heart rhythms Overview of Abnormal Heart Rhythms Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are sequences of heartbeats that are irregular, too fast, too slow, or conducted via an abnormal electrical pathway through the heart. Heart disorders are... read more (causing palpitations, weakness, or fainting), and bleeding and fluid accumulation into the pericardium, which may interfere with the heart's functioning and cause cardiac tamponade Cardiac Tamponade Cardiac tamponade is pressure on the heart by blood or fluid that accumulates in the two-layered sac around the heart (pericardium). This disorder interferes with the heart's ability to pump... read more .
Symptoms of a metastatic heart tumor occur along with symptoms caused by the original tumor and by any metastases elsewhere in the body. For example, people who have lung cancer that has metastasized to the heart may have trouble breathing, fatigue, and coughing up of blood.
Primary cancerous heart tumors themselves may spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. Metastases may be to the spine (causing pain), nearby tissues, or organs such as the lungs (causing trouble breathing and coughing up of blood) and brain (causing abnormal nervous system function).
The procedures used to diagnose cancerous heart tumors are the same as those used for noncancerous heart tumors Diagnosis A tumor is any type of abnormal growth, whether cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Tumors in the heart may be Primary (noncancerous or cancerous) Metastatic (always cancerous) Primary... read more , including echocardiography Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures Ultrasonography uses high-frequency (ultrasound) waves bounced off internal structures to produce a moving image. It uses no x-rays. Ultrasonography of the heart (echocardiography) is one of... read more , computed tomography Computed Tomography (CT) of the Heart Computed tomography (CT) may be used to detect structural abnormalities of the heart, the sac that envelops the heart (pericardium), major blood vessels, lungs, and supporting structures in... read more (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Heart With magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to produce detailed images of the heart and chest. This expensive and sophisticated procedure is used... read more (MRI).
For metastatic heart tumors, further testing is done to find the original tumor, unless its location is already known.
If tumors in the pericardium cause fluid to accumulate around the heart, that fluid may have to be drained.
Because cancerous heart tumors—both primary and metastatic—are almost always incurable, treatment is designed to reduce symptoms. Depending on the type of tumor, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both are used.