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Heart Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment And Prevention

Heart cancer is a very rare form of cancer characterized by a tumour in the heart, known as the cardiac primary tumour. Such tumours are 75% benign (noncancerous) while the malignant (cancerous) form occurs in approx 1 person out of 2000 [1] . The most common type of cancer found in the heart is due to the spread or metastasis of the cancer cells from the nearby organs like lung and breast.

The condition arises when cancerous cells from the nearby organs break down, get carried to the heart through the bloodstream resulting in heart cancer. Such metastasized tumours of the heart are known as secondary tumours and are mostly malignant (cancerous) [2] .

Types of Heart Cancer

As discussed above, heart cancer is often referred to as a tumour formed in the heart. They are of 4 types:

1. Benign

They are noncancerous and unharmful cardiac tumours that do not metastasize to other body parts. Benign tumours are of 3 types which are as follows [2] :

  • Myxomas: Such tumours are found attached to the wall of the heart and cause problems like blood clots. The symptoms are fever, fatigue and weight loss [3] .
  • Papillary fibroelastosis: Such tumours occur in one of the heart valves; either the mitral valve or aortic valve. They cause symptoms due to embolization [4] .
  • Lipomas: They are usually fatty cells and found down to the surface of the heart muscle. They show no symptoms but may cause a heart block [5] .

2. Malignant

They are a cancerous form of cardiac tumours that originate in the heart but are very rare and accounts for only 20% or less among cardiac tumours. They are of 2 types which include [6] :

  • Lymphomas: They are believed to develop as a result of genetic and environmental factors [7] .
  • Sarcomas: Such tumours are highly cancerous and spread rapidly all over the body. They usually metastasized to other body parts before they are diagnosed [8] .

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3. Partially malignant

Such type of tumours can either be malignant or benign. They are of 2 types which are as follows:

  • Mesotheliomas: Such tumours of the heart are malignant and found in the mesothelium, a membrane that lines and safeguard the heart, lungs and the abdominal cavity [9] .
  • Paragangliomas: They are either cancerous or noncancerous and occur in the neuroendocrine tissue, nerve cells that make hormones [10] .

4. Metastatic

Such tumours usually arise in other body parts and spread to the heart when the cancerous cells break out and get transported to the heart through the bloodstream where they get deposited and cause a tumour [11] .

Causes Of Heart Cancer

Tumours are caused when cells in any part of the body grow and divide unnoticed. Sometimes, due to several mutations in the DNA, cancer arises. To mention, the mutation in the DNA takes places during the process of cell division and replication. When these cancerous cells divide, they pass their mutation to the daughter cells and in this way, cancer spreads [12] .

Coming to the heart cancer, we know that heart cells do not replicate (unless there's an injury) and responsible just for pumping the blood. So, there's a very little chance of the development of a tumour in the organ. Then how does it happen?

According to medical experts, the heart is made up of connective tissues and so the formation of cancer in it is a very rare instance. This makes the organ prone only to diseases of the blood vessels as it consists more of blood vessels and arteries that help in pumping the blood in and out of the heart.

Therefore, some unproven factors like environmental pollution, smoking and DNA mutation are responsible for the formation of primary benign tumour in the heart. But still, the condition is very rare and the exact cause is uncovered.

Symptoms Of Heart Cancer

The symptoms of heart cancer depend on the location, type and size of the tumour. Common symptoms of primary heart cancer are as follows [2] :

  • Breath shortness and fatigue when the tumour is in the upper heart chamber.
  • Chest pain, breathe shortness, dizziness and fainting when the tumour is in a ventricle and blocks the blood supply out of the heart.
  • Breathe shortness, fatigue and swollen legs when the tumour is in the heart's muscular wall [3] .
  • Skipped heartbeat, fainting and cardiac arrest when the tumour is inside the muscle of the heart [5] .
  • Irregular heartbeat and sharp chest pain when the tumour breaks from the heart and gets stuck in the small artery of the lungs.
  • Paralysis, confusion and problem in speaking and writing when the tumour breaks from the heart and gets stuck in the small artery of the brain.
  • Pulseless limb and cold when the tumour breaks from the heart and gets stuck in the small artery of the legs or arms.
  • Nightsweats, joint pain and fever when the primary heart tumour causes nonspecific symptoms like an infection.

Risk Factors Of Heart Cancer

Though the real cause of heart cancer is unknown, some factors that make us prone to it are as follows:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Coronary disease
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Poorly functioning an immune system
  • Genetic cancer syndrome [13]
  • Prior Cardiac Dysfunction

Complications Of Heart Cancer

The complications of heart cancer can be dangerous and life-threatening. They are as follows:

  • Spread of cancer to other body parts or metastasis [11]
  • Heart failure
  • Tumour emboli
  • Irregular heart rhythm

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Diagnosis Of Heart Cancer

Heart cancer symptoms are common to other heart diseases and that's why the diagnosis is quite difficult. Therefore, the following tests are considered for the accurate diagnosis of the primary heart tumour [14] .

  • Cardiac catheterization: A test in which the type of tumour is identified [15] .
  • Electrocardiogram: A test to detect abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Echocardiogram: A test conducted by ultrasound waves to detect the movement of the heart and its valves [16] .
  • Tomography: A test to look for abnormalities in the heart.
  • Coronary angiography: A test that shows the outline of the tumour in the heart, similar to X-rays [17] .

Other methods include blood tests, chest X-ray and MRI of the heart.

Treatment Of Heart Cancer

Treatment methods of heart cancer are as follows:

  • Surgery: This is the main treatment where a surgeon will remove the tumour through a surgical process, simultaneously, maintaining the proper functioning of the heart. It is usually carried out for soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Chemotherapy: In this fundamental treatment method, cytotoxic drugs are used to destroy cancerous cells of the heart and reduce symptoms [18] . This method is carried out when the complete tumour does not disappear after surgery.
  • Palliative care: It is specialized care given to people who are living with serious issues to improve their quality of lives. When the heart condition becomes serious, palliative care becomes important for the patient to improve their symptoms.
  • Radiotherapy: In this treatment method, a high energy beam of X-rays is used to kill the cancerous cells and help in slowing down the growth of the tumour. The process involves minimal side effects.
  • Yearly echocardiogram: In this method, high-frequency sound waves like echo test or ultrasound are used to view heart valves and chambers to check the proper functioning of the heart. The method is used when the tumour exists but do not cause any symptoms.

Prevention Of Heart Cancer

  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Avoid excessive exposure to sun or radiation.
  • Schedule a timely screening for cancer.
View Article References
  1. [1] Leja, M. J., Shah, D. J., & Reardon, M. J. (2011). Primary cardiac tumors. Texas Heart Institute journal, 38(3), 261–262.
  2. [2] Sarjeant, J. M., Butany, J., & Cusimano, R. J. (2003). Cancer of the heart. American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs, 3(6), 407-421.
  3. [3] Aiello, V. D., & de Campos, F. P. (2016). Cardiac Myxoma. Autopsy & case reports, 6(2), 5–7. doi:10.4322/acr.2016.030
  4. [4] Saloura, V., Grivas, P. D., Sarwar, A. B., Gorodin, P., & Ledley, G. S. (2009). Papillary fibroelastomas: innocent bystanders or ignored culprits?. Postgraduate medicine, 121(3), 131-138.
  5. [5] D'Souza, J., Shah, R., Abbass, A., Burt, J. R., Goud, A., & Dahagam, C. (2017). Invasive Cardiac Lipoma: a case report and review of literature. BMC cardiovascular disorders, 17(1), 28. doi:10.1186/s12872-016-0465-2
  6. [6] Hudzik, B., Miszalski-Jamka, K., Glowacki, J., Lekston, A., Gierlotka, M., Zembala, M., ... & Gasior, M. (2015). Malignant tumors of the heart. Cancer Epidemiology, 39(5), 665-672.
  7. [7] Chen, C. F., Hsieh, P. P., & Lin, S. J. (2017). Primary cardiac lymphoma with unusual presentation: A report of two cases. Molecular and clinical oncology, 6(3), 311–314. doi:10.3892/mco.2017.1131
  8. [8] Orlandi, A., Ferlosio, A., Roselli, M., Chiariello, L., & Spagnoli, L. G. (2010). Cardiac sarcomas: an update. Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 5(9), 1483-1489.
  9. [9] Suman, S., Schofield, P., & Large, S. (2004). Primary pericardial mesothelioma presenting as pericardial constriction: a case report. Heart (British Cardiac Society), 90(1), e4. doi:10.1136/heart.90.1.e4
  10. [10] Tam, D. Y., & Cusimano, R. J. (2017). Cardiac paraganglioma. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 189(30), E996. doi:10.1503/cmaj.170067
  11. [11] Bussani, R., De-Giorgio, F., Abbate, A., & Silvestri, F. (2007). Cardiac metastases. Journal of clinical pathology, 60(1), 27–34. doi:10.1136/jcp.2005.035105
  12. [12] Lodish, H., Berk, A., Zipursky, S. L., Matsudaira, P., Baltimore, D., & Darnell, J. (2000). Molecular cell biology 4th edition. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Bookshelf.
  13. [13] Lee, E., Mahani, M. G., Lu, J. C., Dorfman, A. L., Srinivasan, A., & Agarwal, P. P. (2018). Primary cardiac tumors associated with genetic syndromes: a comprehensive review. Pediatric radiology, 48(2), 156-164.
  14. [14] Hoffmeier, A., Sindermann, J. R., Scheld, H. H., & Martens, S. (2014). Cardiac tumors--diagnosis and surgical treatment. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 111(12), 205–211. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0205
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  16. [16] InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. What is an echocardiogram? 2016 Oct 6 [Updated 2019 Jan 31].
  17. [17] Ramjattan NA, Lala V, Kousa O, et al. Coronary CT Angiography. [Updated 2019 Jul 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.
  18. [18] Habertheuer, A., Laufer, G., Wiedemann, D., Andreas, M., Ehrlich, M., Rath, C., & Kocher, A. (2015). Primary cardiac tumors on the verge of oblivion: a European experience over 15 years. Journal of cardiothoracic surgery, 10, 56. doi:10.1186/s13019-015-0255-4

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