What Is Heart Cancer?
Heart cancer (primary cardiac tumor) is cancer that arises in the heart. Cancerous (malignant) tumors that begin in the heart are most often sarcomas, a type of cancer that originates in the soft tissues of the body. The vast majority of heart tumors are noncancerous (benign).
Heart cancer is extremely rare. For example, one study reviewed more than 12,000 autopsies and found only seven cases of primary cardiac tumor. At Mayo Clinic, on average only one case of heart cancer is seen each year.
lthough still rare, most cancers found in the heart have come from elsewhere in the body. Cancers that begin near the heart, such as lung cancer, can grow to involve the heart or the lining around the heart (pericardial sac). Or cancer can begin elsewhere in the body and spread to the heart through the bloodstream. Cancers that may affect the heart include breast cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and melanoma, among others.
Cancer can affect the heart in other ways, as well. A rare type of cancer known as carcinoid tumor at times produces hormones that can damage heart valves.
Symptoms of heart failure
What is known is that symptoms vary depending on the location of the sarcoma. For instance, if tumours arise in the two right chambers of the heart, obstructing blood flow into the heart, patients may experience swelling of the feet, ankles and legs.
If a tumour occurs in the muscle tissue of the heart, the heart’s ability to pump blood may be affected. Chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and palpitations are some of the signs that may point to this. Other non-specific symptoms may include fever, weight loss, night sweats and fatigue. Because patients tend to be young, their bodies are able to compensate for most of these symptoms, and they tend to ignore the symptoms and simply attribute them to tiredness.
“But when symptoms go on for too long or become more severe, that’s when they consult a doctor. Unfortunately, the sarcomas are pretty large by then. These kinds of tumours also tend to be high grade, meaning they grow fast and cause more damage,” said Dr Quek. So when young patients consult a doctor for symptoms that seem to point to heart failure, alarm bells go off and further investigation is urgently initiated.