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All You Need to Know About Heart Cancer - Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Dr. Ajay KohliJun 23, 2024

The heart is the most vital organ in the circulatory system. It is made up of muscular and connective tissue that does not change frequently. This minimises the chances of any mutation in these cells, thereby decreasing any chances of cancer developing in the heart. Cancer that originates in the heart, called primary heart cancer, is an extremely rare type of cancer.

Secondary heart cancer, though still rare, occurs more commonly than the primary disease. This cancer is also called metastatic cardiac cancer, and it originates in other organs of the body, such as the lungs, brain, liver, bones, etc., before spreading to the heart.




Symptoms of Heart Cancer

Cancer growing in the heart can intrude into its musculature, disrupting its function and anatomy and giving rise to various symptoms. Sometimes the tumour does not invade the heart muscles, but causes symptoms by pressing on different parts of the heart. However, some individuals do not experience any cardiac symptoms and remain asymptomatic. The cancer is noticed during a physical exam, or imaging carried out for some other disorder.

The symptoms of heart cancer depend upon the location and size of the cancer, and most of the time, they resemble common cardiac problems. These symptoms can be grouped into six types.

  • Symptoms caused due to blockage in the blood circulation, for example, giddiness, breathlessness, malaise, and chest pain.

  • Symptoms caused by disruption of the conduction system of the heart, like a heart rate or bradycardia, fast heart rate or tachycardia, irregular heartbeats, and cardiac arrest.

  • Symptoms arising out of heart muscle affliction such as swelling of ankles and legs, weakness, breathlessness, and chest pain.

  • Blood clots or embolus travelling to the brain, lungs, and upper or lower limbs lead to symptoms of paralysis, chest pain, cold extremities, etc.

  • Generalised symptoms, including weight loss, fatigue, weakness, fever, chills, etc.

  • Collection of fluid around the heart, known as pericardial effusion, leading to irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest, and breathlessness.

What Causes Heart Cancer?

While the exact cause of heart cancer is uncertain, some factors may predispose you to get it. Listed below are common risk factors:

  • Age above 60 years

  • Female gender

  • Family history of heart cancer

  • Smoking 

  • Genetic mutations

  • Immunocompromised individuals

Classification of Heart Cancer

Heart cancer can be classified as benign or malignant cancer. Usually, the majority of heart tumours are benign. 

  1. Benign tumours: Some of the benign tumours of the heart are myxoma, fibroma, rhabdomyoma, papillary fibroelastoma, lipoma, and haemangioma. Most benign tumours are surgically removable and can thus be cured. If there are no symptoms, you can keep an eye on these tumours with annual echocardiograms.

  2. Malignant tumours: These types of heart cancers are usually life-threatening and grow rapidly. Surgical removal is only possible if cancer has not invaded the heart extensively. Some malignant heart tumours are angiosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, liposarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, pericardial mesothelioma, primary lymphoma, etc. 

How is Heart Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosing heart cancer usually involves several diagnostic techniques. Following are some of the tests suggested by healthcare professionals:

  • Echocardiography: 90% of cardiac cancers are diagnosed through echocardiography.

  • Cardiovascular MRI and cardiac CT scan: To evaluate cancer accurately before planning surgery.

  • Electrocardiogram: To understand and assess the conduction system of the heart.

  • Blood reports: To check for some tumour markers.

  • Biopsy: To remove a part of the tumour or the entire tumour and send it for pathological testing.

  • Pericardiocentesis: To drain fluid around the heart and check it for the presence of cancerous cells.

What are the Different Treatment Methods for Heart Cancer?

As there are fewer patients with heart cancer, there is no standard treatment protocol to treat it. The treatment is customised according to the individual patient and their symptoms. These therapies aim to cure cancer completely or bring it to remission.

Some of the therapies for cardiac cancer are as follows:

  • Surgical procedure: This is the mainstay of cardiac cancer treatment. However, for a surgical removal to be successful, the tumour should not be very large or should not be on the left side of the heart. If the tumour can be removed in its entirety, it can prolong the patient's life.

  • Chemotherapy: This therapy slows down cancer growth but usually is ineffective for primary heart cancer. It can be more effective in metastatic cardiac cancer.

  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy alone or in combination with chemotherapy can reduce the size of the tumour.

  • Heart transplant: Some patients benefit from a heart transplant.

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy reduces fatigue and improves strength and exercise capacity.

  • Alternative therapies: Therapies like yoga, meditation, acupressure, etc., help manage cardiac cancer symptoms effectively.

  • Diet: Proper nutritious diet helps improve patients' nutritional status.

How to Prevent Heart Cancer?

Though heart cancer caused due to genetic factors is extremely difficult to prevent, avoiding certain other factors may prevent you from getting it:

  • Quitting smoking - active as well as passive

  • Avoiding alcohol

  • Engaging in regular physical activity and exercise

  • Consuming a healthy diet

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Undergoing regular preventive health examinations

In Summary

Heart cancer, being very rare, can sometimes be missed, and the symptoms might be attributed to some other heart disorder. However, with improved diagnostic imaging and techniques, cardiac cancer can be diagnosed and treated.

Surgical removal is the first-line treatment for heart cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used to shrink the tumour if it cannot be surgically removed. However, all these diagnostic and treatment methods are expensive.

Getting heart cancer or any other cancer, in fact, can be a health emergency that drains one financially.

A health insurance policy can shield you against exorbitant expenditures brought on by such health emergencies, and enable you to get timely medical help. Check health plans by ACKO and get one to insure yourself and your family today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of common questions and answers about heart cancer


What is the survival rate in heart cancer patients?

The survival rate of a heart cancer patient is six months, if the tumour is not removed surgically. Removing the tumour increases the life expectancy by about one year.

Can heart cancer be cured?

Benign heart cancer can be cured when surgically removed, whereas malignant heart cancers have a poor prognosis. Luckily, these types of heart cancers are rare.

Can cancer from other body parts spread to the heart?

Yes, cancer from other body parts like the kidney, oesophagus, lungs, breast, blood cancer, etc., can spread to the heart and cause secondary heart cancer.

How many stages of heart cancer are there?

The majority of cancers, including heart cancer, have four stages, from stage 1 to stage 4


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions


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