What Are the Different Types of Heart Tumor?

A. Pasbjerg

Heart tumors can be benign or malignant, and they can develop in the heart itself or spread there from other parts of the body. Myxomas are the most common benign variety, growing in the chambers of the heart, followed by rhabdomyomas, which arise in the heart muscles. Other types of benign heart tumor include fibromas, lipomas, and pericardial cysts. There are also a variety of malignant tumors, called cardiac sarcomas, that can develop in the heart, the most common being angiosarcomas that grow within the chambers. Cancers can also spread from nearby tissues such as the breasts or lungs, leading to secondary tumors in the heart.

Fibromas, made up of connective tissue, typically grow in the myocardium.
Fibromas, made up of connective tissue, typically grow in the myocardium.

Roughly half of the tumors that start in the heart are myxomas. These benign growths arise in the heart chambers, particularly the left atrium. They can block blood flow through the heart and stop the valves from functioning properly.

Angiosarcomas can grow on the pericardium.
Angiosarcomas can grow on the pericardium.

Rhabdomyomas are the next most common type of heart tumor. These tumors are also benign, and grow within the myocardium, or the muscle tissue of the heart. Often affecting infants or children, they are typically found clustered in the ventricle wall.

Rhabdomyomas are tumors that arise in the heart muscles.
Rhabdomyomas are tumors that arise in the heart muscles.

Several other types of benign heart tumor may develop in the heart as well, though they are more rare. Fibromas, made up of connective tissue, typically grow in the myocardium. Lipomas are masses of fat that often develop in the heart walls. Infants may get a tumor called a teratoma, which usually occurs at the base of the vessels on the surface of the heart. Some other varieties include lymphangiomas, pericardial cysts, and papillary fibroelastomas.

Cancers can spread from nearby tissues such as the lungs, creating secondary tumors in the heart.
Cancers can spread from nearby tissues such as the lungs, creating secondary tumors in the heart.

While it is relatively rare, it is possible for a malignant heart tumor to arise within the organ. The most common type is an angiosarcoma, which often starts in the right atrium, though it can also grow on the pericardium, or outer surface, as well. These tumors often block blood flow through the atrium, and may be associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpatations when they grow on the pericardium. Other cancerous tumors of the heart can include fibrosarcomas, myxosarcomas, and liposarcomas.

Malignant tumors may be treated using chemotherapy.
Malignant tumors may be treated using chemotherapy.

A much more common occurrence than a primary malignant heart tumor is a cancer that spreads to the heart from another location. This can occur with many different types of cancer such as leukemias, sarcomas, and melanomas. Though it is often the result of cancer in the lungs or breasts, a malignancy can spread from other tissues as well.

The heart can get tumors -- benign or malignant -- just as most other parts of the body can.
The heart can get tumors -- benign or malignant -- just as most other parts of the body can.
Tumors that block blood flow through the atrium may cause shortness of breath, among other problems.
Tumors that block blood flow through the atrium may cause shortness of breath, among other problems.

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