Heart tumors, also known as cardiac tumors, occur when malignant cells develop in the tissue inside the heart, in the heart muscle or in the external wall of the heart. There are many types, but regardless of the form heart cancer is a very rare cancer. A cardiac tumor can begin to develop in the heart; this is called a primary tumor. It can also result from cells from another part of the body that have spread (metastasized) to the heart tissue; this is a secondary tumor. In children, secondary tumors are more common than primary tumors.
The good news is that most cardiac tumors are benign, and most of them occur in children under 12 years old. They have a very good prognosis. Nevertheless, the prognosis for cancerous tumors (malignant) is not good, but they are very rare. In fact, it is estimated that less than 10 % of primary cardiac tumors are malignant. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy body tissues and they often cause symptoms that mimic those of a heart attack.
Most Common Benign Cardiac Tumors in Children
The rhabdomyomas are the most common cardiac tumors, followed by fibroids. These are benign tumors.
Rhabdomyomas – The rhabdomyomas tend to appear in the inner walls of the heart and are usually multiple. These tumors usually affect children less than 1 year. Often, these tumors are not accompanied by any symptoms. When there are symptoms; they can be taken for heart murmur (cardiac murmur), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or heart failure.
More than 75 % of rhabdomyomas are found in children suffering with tuberous sclerosis, a genetic medical condition characterized by lesions of the skin and central nervous system, bumps, and epileptic seizures. These tumors do not become malignant and usually disappear without treatment. In general, the prognosis is good.
Fibroids – Fibroids usually affect the left ventricle of the heart. When these tumors grow, they can interfere with the mitral and aortic valves, which may cause blockage of valves or leakage (leaking heart valve). They may also interfere with the heart’s electrical system, thereby causing abnormal or irregular heart (arrhythmias). Fibroids are mostly found in children under 6 years. Treatment of fibroids may require surgery, and the prognosis is less satisfying than that of rhabdomyomas.
Common Malignant Cardiac Tumors in Children
Sarcomas are extremely rare malignant heart tumors in children. The most common are rhabdomyosarcomas, cancerous tumors that originates in the soft tissues of the heart muscle; angiosarcoma, which can form in any area of the heart but most commonly affect the right atrium; fibrosarcoma, malignant tumor that arises from the cells that produce connective tissue; liposarcoma, a malignant soft tissue tumor that develops in the cells of the fat tissue.
Causes of Cardiac Tumors
The causes of cardiac tumors are not well known to medical scientists. Although genetic/family history is suspected, a small percentage of patients with cardiac tumors have a family history of the disease. In a very small percentage of patients, the tumors seem to be part of another health condition, Carney Syndrome for instance. But most of the times, the tumor develops without any family history or another apparent cause.
Symptoms of Cardiac Tumors
Cardiac tumors may cause no symptoms in early stages. When they do, the symptoms tend to be similar to those of other heart defect symptoms. These symptoms include heart failure and arrhythmias. The appearance or absence of symptoms depends on where the tumor is located as well as the size of the tumor.
Diagnosis of Cardiac Tumors
Several tests are used to diagnose cardiac tumor: echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), Computed tomography (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and others. Some cardiac tumors are not accompanied by any symptoms while others may cause malfunction of the heart which can be fatal. They tend to imitate other heart diseases, which complicates the diagnosis. However, a parent can suspect the presence of a cardiac tumor in a child already diagnosed with cancer, especially when he begins to experience shortness of breath, chest pain or/and ankle swelling.
Cardiac Tumor Treatment
In some cases, heart tumors disappear on their own and no treatment is necessary. This is observed mostly in children with rhabdomyomas. However, if symptoms are severe, the health care provider may decide to treat the tumor to avoid fetal complications. For instance, a noncancerous primary heat tumor can be removed by surgery.
When there are several non-cancerous tumors or non-cancerous tumor that is too big to be surgically removed heart transplant maybe considered. Heart transplantation is a major procedure which is performed for advanced or serious types of heart tumor. In case of primary and secondary cancer and incurable tumors, controlling the symptoms can be challenging. In short, the treatment must be evaluated and determined based on the characteristic of the tumor and health status of the patient.