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Cardiac tumors

William H Gaasch, MD
Thomas J Vander Salm, MD
Section Editor
Wilson S Colucci, MD
Deputy Editors
Sadhna R Vora, MD
Susan B Yeon, MD, JD, FACC


Primary cardiac tumors are extremely rare [1]. As an example, in one series of over 12,000 autopsies, only seven were identified, for an incidence of less than 0.1 percent [2]. By comparison, metastatic involvement of the heart is over 20 times more common and has been reported in autopsy series in up to one in five patients dying of cancer [2-5].

Cardiac tumors may be symptomatic or found incidentally during evaluation for a seemingly unrelated problem or physical finding. In symptomatic patients, a mass can virtually always be detected by echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and/or computed tomography (CT). Because symptoms may mimic other cardiac conditions, the clinical challenge is to consider the possibility of a cardiac tumor so that the appropriate diagnostic test(s) can be conducted.


The specific signs and symptoms of cardiac tumors generally are determined by the location of the tumor in the heart and not by its histopathology [6].

Mechanisms of symptom production — Cardiac tumors may cause symptoms through a variety of mechanisms:

Embolization, which is usually systemic but can be pulmonic. Aortic valve and left atrial tumors were associated with greatest risk of embolization [7].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 09, 2017.
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