Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

How is cardiac sarcoma diagnosed?

The methods for diagnosing cardiac sarcoma vary, to some degree, based on the symptoms present. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for cardiac sarcoma may include the following:

  • Echocardiogram (also known as echo) – a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to produce a study of the motion of the heart’s chambers and valves. The echo sound waves create an image on the monitor as an ultrasound transducer is passed over the heart. Echocardiography has become the most useful tool in the diagnosis of cardiac sarcoma, allowing the physician to see the exact size and location of the tumor.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias) and detects heart muscle damage; cardiac sarcoma may cause changes in the heart’s rhythm, however, these EKG changes may indicate other heart problems, so other diagnostic tools are needed to make a definitive diagnosis of cardiac sarcoma or any other type of heart tumor. 
  • Computed tomography (also called a CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays and are used to further define the tumor’s size, location and other characteristics. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body to further define the tumor’s size, location and other characteristics. 
  • Chest X-ray – a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones and organs onto film; may detect heart enlargement or pulmonary congestion. 
  • Cardiac catheterization – with this procedure, X-rays are taken after a contrast agent is injected into an artery — to locate the narrowing, occlusions and other abnormalities of specific arteries.