Cardiac tumors are growths that can develop in many different parts of your heart. Primary heart tumors begin in your heart and may be cancerous or noncancerous. Metastatic heart tumors develop when cancer spreads to your heart from elsewhere in your body. Your outlook depends on the type of tumor, its size and its location within your heart.
Cardiac tumors (also called heart tumors) are growths that form in your heart. They can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Some are harmless or easily treatable, but others can be fatal. In general, an earlier diagnosis can lead to prompt treatment and better outcomes for people with cardiac tumors.
Cardiac tumors range in size and shape. Some are pedunculated, meaning they grow on a stalk. Heart tumors may be smaller than 1 centimeter in diameter or as big as 15 centimeters. Their size and location within your heart impact your symptoms and need for treatment.
There are many types of cardiac tumors. Doctors classify them based on how they develop. Heart tumors that begin in your heart — rather than spreading from another part of your body to your heart — are called primary heart tumors. Primary heart tumors are usually noncancerous but are sometimes cancerous.
When cancer elsewhere in your body spreads to your heart, those tumors are called metastatic heart tumors. Metastatic heart tumors are always cancerous because they result from cancer that’s already in your body.
About 75% to 95% of all primary heart tumors are noncancerous. But they can still be dangerous if they interfere with your heart function, and can pose a risk of stroke if left untreated.
Noncancerous primary heart tumors that develop in adults include:
Noncancerous primary heart tumors that develop in infants and children include:
About 5% to 25% of all primary heart tumors are cancerous. Among those, the most common form is sarcoma.
Sarcoma affects 50% to 75% of people with heart cancer. Sarcoma has many subtypes. Two of the most common include:
Less common forms of cancerous primary heart tumors include:
Some tumors that begin in your heart can be either noncancerous or cancerous. These include:
Metastatic heart tumors are cancerous tumors that have spread to your heart from somewhere else in your body. Cancers that may spread to your heart include:
Cardiac tumors can be located in many different parts of your heart. Both primary and metastatic heart tumors may form in the:
Cardiac tumors can affect anyone at any age, depending on the form. Some forms (like teratomas) develop while a fetus is still in the uterus. Other forms develop during childhood or various stages of adulthood.
Myxomas are two to four times more common among people designated female at birth than in people designated male at birth.
Sarcomas are more common in middle-aged adults. The average age at diagnosis is 44.
Primary heart tumors (noncancerous and cancerous) affect fewer than 1 in 2,000 people. Of those, noncancerous tumors are much more common than cancerous ones.
Metastatic heart tumors are more common than primary heart tumors. They affect:
Heart tumors affect your body in many different ways. Cancerous heart tumors can spread elsewhere in your body, such as your lungs. Noncancerous heart tumors don’t spread but can cause heart and vascular problems, including:
How a tumor affects your heart depends on the tumor’s form and exactly where it’s located. For example, tumors that grow from your heart valves can interfere with blood flow in your heart or lead to blood clots. Tumors in your heart muscle may cause heart failure or arrhythmias.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart tumor, your provider will tell you where it’s located and how it may affect your heart.
The symptoms of cardiac heart tumors are all across the board. They vary based on the form of tumor you have and where it’s located in your heart. Some people have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Others have symptoms that signal life-threatening heart problems.
Many cardiac tumor symptoms are what doctors call “non-specific.” That means lots of different health problems could trigger these symptoms, not just heart tumors. So, if you have these symptoms, it’s not always obvious you have a heart tumor. It’s important to tell your healthcare provider about your symptoms so they can look for the cause.
Generally, people with cancerous heart tumors have symptoms that begin suddenly and get worse quickly. Symptoms of noncancerous heart tumors may develop more gradually.
Signs and symptoms of cardiac tumors include:
It’s not always clear what causes primary heart tumors. Genetic syndromes (like Carney complex) may play a role in causing some noncancerous primary heart tumors.
The spread of cancer from one part of your body (like your lungs or skin) to your heart causes metastatic heart tumors.
Cardiac tumors are diagnosed through imaging tests. Your provider may suspect you have a heart tumor and run some tests to find out. Or, they may run tests for other reasons and find a tumor without expecting it.
When someone has cancer elsewhere in their body along with sudden heart problems, their provider may suspect a heart tumor. So, imaging tests can check if the cancer has spread to their heart.
Primary heart tumors are often difficult to diagnose because signs and symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. Providers may suspect a tumor in people who have symptoms of heart failure without a clear cause. But usually, providers diagnose primary heart tumors through tests they’ve ordered to check for other conditions. These are known as incidental findings.
Most heart tumor signs and symptoms are non-specific and could indicate many possible problems. But there’s one sign unique to heart tumors. Your provider may be able to hear a characteristic “tumor plop” when listening to your heart through a stethoscope. They’ll hear this sound if the tumor physically blocks your mitral valve. It’s similar to what your provider would hear if you had mitral valve stenosis.
So, if your provider hears this sound, they may suspect you have a heart tumor, especially if you don’t have risk factors for mitral valve stenosis.
Imaging tests are essential for diagnosing, treating and monitoring heart tumors. Your provider may run one or more of the following tests to reach a diagnosis:
Treatment options for cardiac tumors vary based on the type of tumor.
Your outlook depends on the type of tumor you have and how early it’s diagnosed. Overall, an earlier diagnosis leads to better outcomes. But some cancerous tumors spread aggressively and are difficult or impossible to cure. Research shows:
Your provider will discuss your individual prognosis with you. In general, people with noncancerous heart tumors have a better prognosis than people with cancerous tumors.
Cancerous primary heart tumors reduce your life expectancy. Overall:
Life expectancy also depends on the form of heart cancer.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a cardiac tumor, it’s important to closely follow your provider’s guidance. Your provider will tell you how often you need to come in for appointments and what your treatment plan will be. They may also recommend genetic testing for you and for your family members.
If you’ve had surgery to remove a tumor, you’ll need regular follow-ups with your provider and routine imaging tests. These tests allow your provider to check if any tumors have returned. They also allow your provider to check your heart function and treat any issues that come up.
If your child was diagnosed with a cardiac tumor, their provider will explain next steps. Your child may need treatment right away.
Talk with your provider about your diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis. You may want to ask:
If your child has a heart tumor, ask their provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cardiac tumors can affect your body and your life in many different ways. Often, noncancerous tumors can be successfully removed. Other tumors, including cancerous ones, may be harder to treat. Talk with your provider to learn more about your specific diagnosis and what it means for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/29/2022.
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