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What Is Heart Cancer?

By C.B. Fox
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Heart cancer is an extremely rare form of cancer that occurs in the tissues of the heart. Tumors can develop in the walls of the chambers or in the valves that allow blood to pass between the sections of the heart. This type of cancer is difficult to detect and treatment can cause serious damage to the patient’s heart.

Unlike the cells in many parts of the body, such as the skin, blood or bones, the cells in the heart do not often divide. It is believed that this is the main reason why heart cancer is extremely rare. Though tumors are seen fairly regularly in the heart, the vast majority of these are benign. Cancer can travel to the heart from another part of the body or it can develop as a primary cancer in the heart, though both of these conditions occur extremely infrequently.

If the heart cancer is caught early enough, the patient has a decent chance of making a full recovery. This type of cancer does respond to chemotherapy and radiation, though the use of either of these treatments in the tissues of the heart can lead to complications with the heart muscle itself. If a patient does recover from heart cancer, the treatments can leave that patient vulnerable to various heart conditions later in life. It is also possible to remove cancerous portions of a patient’s heart surgically, though these surgeries are difficult to perform and often traumatic for the patient.

The symptoms of heart cancer can mimic the symptoms of a variety of conditions that affect the heart and, because of this, the presence of cancer may not be readily apparent. An irregular heartbeat, heart murmurs, dyspnea, angina and fever are all common symptoms of heart cancer that could easily be associated with a plethora of other causes. Serious symptoms of heart cancer can include heart attack or a malfunction in one or more of the valves of the heart. Surgeries used to treat these severe conditions can reveal the cancer, though at the point surgery is needed, the cancer may have progressed throughout much of the heart.

In many cases, heart cancer also can develop as a secondary cancer to melanoma or sarcoma. Lymphoma that begins near a patient’s heart can also spread to the heart. In all of these cases, early detection and a good treatment plan can improve the patient’s odds of fighting both the primary cancer and the secondary heart cancer.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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