Cardiac tumours

Cardiac tumours are abnormal growths which can be found within the heart or the heart valves. They can be categorised as cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign); however, in general, they are rare. Primary tumours tend to originate from the heart, while secondary tumour migrate from elsewhere in the body and spread to the heart. Most cardiac tumours are benign; however, due to their size and location, they may disrupt the normal function of the heart. In some cases, small pieces of the tumour can dislodge (embolism) and disrupt the blood flow to vital organs.

The most common primary cardiac tumour is a myxoma. Myxomas are benign and tend to occur more commonly in men than women. They are mainly found in the left upper chamber of the heart but can grow in other areas of the heart including the heart valves.

Other benign primary tumours are papillary fibroelastomas, fibromas, rhabdomyomas, haemangiomas, teratomas, lipomas, paragangliomas and pericardial cysts. Malignant primary tumours include pericardial mesotheliomas, primary lymphomas and sarcomas.

Secondary tumours are seen more commonly than primary tumours. They tend to migrate from other parts of the body such as the lungs, breasts, stomach, kidneys, liver or colon.

They can also be linked to other malignant conditions such as lymphoma, leukaemia and melanoma.

Patients are usually unaware that they have a cardiac tumour. It is often diagnosed
incidentally following an echocardiogram for an unrelated reason. Patients with cardiac myoxomas may develop symptoms as the flow of blood is disrupted by the presence of the tumour. Symptoms may include breathlessness, light-headedness or a cough. In some cases, due to the inflammatory process, patients may complain of a fever, joint pains and feeling generally unwell.

A cardiac tumour can be confirmed by an echocardiogram, computed tomography scan or a magnetic resonance imaging scan.

Cardiac tumours can cause an obstruction to blood flow within the heart and for this
reason, surgery is usually the treatment of choice. The need for surgery is dependent on the size of the tumour, the presence of symptoms and the patient’s overall health.

Removal of the tumour is usually done by open heart surgery, however, surgery can also be done robotically or using minimally invasive techniques.

Recovery after uncomplicated surgery can be up to 5 days in hospital and up to 6 weeks for full recovery. Following the surgical procedure, a yearly echocardiogram will be required to ensure that the tumour has not returned.

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