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Cancer-Related Heart Disease

Primary Heart Tumors

Originate in the Heart

Tumors that originate in the heart are called primary heart tumors.  These are very rare.

May Be Cancerous or Noncancerous

They may develop in any of the heart tissues and may be cancerous or noncancerous.

Cancerous: Sarcomas

The most common primary heart tumors are sarcomas -- cancers that develop from blood vessel tissue.

Noncancerous: Myxomas

Half of all primary heart tumors are myxomas, noncancerous tumors that usually are irregular in shape and jellylike in consistency. Three-quarters of myxomas occur in the left atrium. Some of these myxomas run in families. These typically develop in young men in their mid 20s. Myxomas that are not hereditary usually develop in women between the ages of 40 and 60.

Secondary Heart Tumors

Originate in Other Parts of the Body

Secondary heart tumors are those that originate in other parts of the body -- most often, the lungs, breasts, blood or skin -- and spread (metastasize) to the heart. These are more common.

Always Cancerous

Secondary heart tumors are always cancerous.

  • Secondary heart tumors are 30 to 40 times more common than primary heart tumors, but are still rare.
  • About 10 percent of those with lung or breast cancer will have it spread to the heart.
  • About 75 percent of those with malignant melanoma (a form of cancer that often arises in the skin) will see it spread to the heart.
  • Secondary cancers spread by direct invasion of the pericardium -- the sac that surrounds the heart -- or through the bloodstream or lymph system.

Relationship Between Heart Disease and Cancer

Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, can also cause heart disease or a weakening of the heart muscle called cardiomyopathy ( see heart failure section). Another heart condition, cardiac amyloidosis, is sometimes linked to multiple myeloma.

Contact Information

Cardiovascular Medicine
Division of the CardioVascular Institute
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215