Heart Tumor Removal Surgery
What is heart tumor removal surgery?
Heart tumor removal surgery is a complex medical procedure that treats tumors in your heart. It’s especially helpful for people who have benign heart tumors that pose a risk of complications.
Depending on the type of tumor you have, you may need reconstructive surgery to repair damage to your heart or one of its valves. Your healthcare provider will tell you if this is something you need.
What is a heart tumor?
A heart tumor is a growth that forms in your heart. Primary heart tumors begin in your heart, as opposed to spreading from somewhere else in your body. Most primary heart tumors are benign (not cancerous). They have essentially no risk of metastasis (spreading), and they’re not associated with decreased life expectancy as long as they’re removed.
The vast majority of primary heart tumors are myxomas or papillary fibroelastomas. These are benign growths that can impact heart valve function. More commonly, they can increase your risk for a blood clot that travels through your bloodstream (embolism) or a stroke. So, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery to remove the tumor.
Cancerous heart tumors (sarcomas) are extremely rare, and most often they’re not treated with surgery.
Can you remove a tumor from the heart?
Yes, in many cases, surgeons can completely remove a tumor from your heart. Surgeries to remove benign tumors like myxomas and papillary fibroelastomas are very successful.
However, some complex benign tumors and cancerous tumors can be harder to remove. In those cases, surgeons may remove as much of the tumor as possible (partial resection). This should help ease some of your symptoms and give you a better quality of life. In other cases, surgery may not be feasible, and your provider may recommend other treatments or palliative care.
Who needs to have this surgery?
You may need surgery to remove a heart tumor if your healthcare provider believes the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks. Your provider may recommend surgery if the tumor:
- Causes symptoms.
- Interferes with your heart function.
- Raises your risk of complications like blood clots or a stroke.
- Is growing quickly.
How do surgeons remove a tumor from the heart?
Open-heart surgery is the traditional method for removing heart tumors. However, medical advances have led to minimally invasive methods that give you an easier recovery.
Heart tumors are rare, and surgeries to remove them aren’t as common as most other heart surgeries. So, it’s important to seek care at a major medical center that has experience in treating heart tumors. A surgical team will assess your situation and decide the most suitable type of surgery for you.
Open-heart surgery to remove tumor
Open-heart surgery gives your surgeon a direct view of your heart and surrounding anatomy. It requires a median sternotomy, which is a procedure that makes a long, vertical incision down the middle of your chest.
Your surgical team gives you anesthesia so you’re in a deep sleep during the surgery. They also connect you to cardiopulmonary bypass (a heart-lung machine). This machine does the work of your heart and lungs and allows your surgeon to operate on a still (non-beating) heart.
Your surgeon removes the tumor and, if needed, reconstructs damaged parts of your heart. Reconstruction may include valve repair or replacement depending on how the tumor affected your heart.
Minimally invasive heart surgery
Minimally invasive heart surgery doesn’t require an incision down the middle of your chest, like in open-heart surgery. Instead, your surgeon uses small incisions to access your heart and remove the tumor. You still need anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass.
Robotically assisted heart surgery
Robotically assisted removal of heart tumors is a type of minimally invasive heart surgery. Surgeons perform it using an endoscopic, closed chest approach.
For this procedure, your surgeon creates several small incisions between your ribs. These incisions allow your surgeon to insert tools connected to robotic arms. Your surgeon’s hands control the movements of these robotic arms. Imaging technology allows your surgeon to see inside your heart throughout the process.
What happens before surgery?
Your surgical team will tell you how to prepare for your surgery. Be sure to closely follow their instructions on:
- Any needed changes to your medication schedule.
- When you should start fasting (not eating or drinking) the night before your surgery.
- When to quit smoking or using tobacco products in the weeks leading up to your surgery. This is important for lowering your risk of complications.
Your surgical team will also run one or more tests to get a clear look at the tumor and your heart. Tests you may need include:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan.
- Coronary angiogram.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
What happens during surgery?
The details of your surgery depend on the method (open-heart vs. minimally invasive). In general, your surgeon will:
- Give you anesthesia and connect you to a cardio-pulmonary bypass machine.
- Make one or more incisions in your chest to access your heart.
- Use various tools to carefully remove the tumor from your heart and reconstruct surrounding tissues, if needed.
- Close the incision or incisions with stitches.
Your surgical team will give you more information to help you understand what your surgery involves and how long it’ll take.
What happens after surgery?
After your surgery, you’ll spend one or more days in the intensive care unit (ICU) for close monitoring. After that, you’ll continue recovering in a regular hospital room. Your length of stay in the hospital depends on the surgical method and how your recovery goes. Each person is different. Your surgical team will tell you how things are going and when you can expect to return home.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of heart tumor removal surgery?
Heart tumor removal surgery can ease your symptoms, reduce the risk of complications and help you to enjoy a better quality of life.
Benefits of robotically assisted surgery
Compared with traditional open-heart surgery, robotically assisted surgery offers you the following benefits:
- Smaller incisions with minimal scarring.
- Less trauma, including less pain.
- Shorter hospital stay (usually three to four days).
- Less use of pain medications.
- Less bleeding.
- Lower risk of infection.
- Shorter recovery and quicker return to your normal activities.
What are the risks of heart tumor removal surgery?
Possible complications include:
- Allergic reaction to anesthesia.
- Confusion or trouble thinking clearly (temporary cognitive changes can occur after heart surgery, but researchers aren’t sure exactly why).
- Damage to blood vessels or organs.
- Infection (mediastinitis).
Minimally invasive methods lower your risk of complications. Talk to your provider about the risks associated with your specific surgery.
Recovery and Outlook
What is heart tumor surgery recovery like?
Your recovery depends on the type of surgery you have and other factors, like your overall health. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions and tell you what you can expect. In general, robotically assisted surgery offers you a quicker recovery than open-heart surgery. Most people can get back to their normal activities and work as soon as they feel up to it.
After any surgery, it’s important to follow your surgeon’s guidance on what to do and what to avoid during your recovery.
What is the heart tumor surgery survival rate?
Your chances of surviving a heart tumor — and how long you can live after treatment — depend on many factors. These include the type of tumor you have and whether your surgeon can fully remove it. If you have cancer, the stage of your disease impacts your outcome, too. Your healthcare provider knows the details of your diagnosis and your overall health. So, they’re the best person to ask to learn about what you can expect going forward.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I see my heart surgeon?
Your surgeon will tell you what signs and symptoms to look out for as you recover. Some discomfort is normal, but it’s important to know what could signal a complication like an infection.
Call your surgeon if you have:
- Chest pain that doesn’t get better over time.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Shortness of breath.
- Signs of infection near your incision, like redness or oozing.
- Slurred speech or other signs you may be having a stroke.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you or a loved one needs surgery to remove a heart tumor, you probably have many questions. You might wonder what will happen after the surgery or the odds of long-term survival. Keep in mind that each person’s medical journey is unique, and statistics only tell part of the story. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your surgeon – or any member of your medical care team – with any questions or concerns you have. It may also help to talk with a counselor or support group to sort out the emotions you’re feeling and learn new strategies for managing stress.
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