Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is cardiac sarcoma?

Cardiac sarcoma is a type of tumor that occurs in the heart. Cardiac sarcoma is a primary malignant (cancerous) tumor. Tumors are considered to be either primary tumors or secondary tumors. A primary tumor is the original site of tumor growth. A secondary tumor originates from another tumor elsewhere in the body. Primary tumors of the heart are rare, and over 75 percent of primary cardiac tumors are benign (noncancerous).
What are the symptoms of cardiac sarcoma?

The symptoms of heart tumors will vary, depending on the location of the tumor. Tumors of the heart may occur on the outside surface of the heart, within one or more chambers of the heart (intracavitary) or within the muscle tissue of the heart.

Cardiac sarcomas, most frequently, are a type of sarcoma called angiosarcoma. Angiosarcomas usually begin in the right atrium (right upper chamber) of the heart, or on the pericardium (outer surface) of the heart. Approximately 80 percent of angiosarcomas occur in the right atrium resulting in obstruction of the inflow or outflow of blood. This obstruction may cause symptoms such as swelling of the feet, legs, ankles and/or abdomen, and distension of the neck veins, because the blood coming back to the heart after traveling through the body cannot easily enter or be pumped out of the right atrium.

Cardiac angiosarcomas that occur on the pericardium can cause increased fluid in the pericardial sac, the thin covering that surrounds the heart. If enough fluid accumulates within the pericardial sac, the heart’s ability to pump blood is affected. Some signs of this occurrence may include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and palpitations.

Tiny pieces (emboli) of cardiac sarcomas may break off and travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. An embolus may block blood flow to an organ or body part, causing pain and damage to the organ or body part that lies beyond the point at which the blood flow is obstructed. Emboli can affect the brain (causing a stroke), the lungs (causing respiratory distress) and/or other organs and body parts.

Additional symptoms include hemoptysis (coughing up blood), heart rhythm problems and upper facial congestion. Other signs of cardiac sarcoma not related to the location of the tumor in the heart may include fever, weight loss, night sweats and malaise (fatigue, tiredness or ”not feeling well“).

The symptoms of cardiac sarcoma may resemble other cardiac or medical conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.