What is heart cancer?
When malignant cells grow uncontrollably on or near the heart, heart cancer may become imminent. Such cells often form a tumor in the heart. However, primary heart cancer–or cancer that origins in the heart is sporadic. In most cases, cancers that originate in other organs near the heart, such as the lungs and esophagus, spread to the heart, or cancers spread from other organs such as kidneys to the heart via the bloodstream (leukemia). Such cases of heart cancer come via another organ and are called secondary heart cancer.
Types of Heart Cancer
You must note that less than 2 out of 100,000 people are prone to heart cancer. Also, 80% of cardiac tumors are benign (non-cancerous). So, there are two types of heart cancer: malignant and benign.
Types of malignant heart cancer are:
Sarcoma is the most common form of malignant heart cancer. Cardiac angiosarcoma constitutes almost 40% of cardiac sarcomas. This form of sarcoma proliferates and has a scope of spreading to other parts of the body.
Rhabdomyosarcoma occurs in the left atrium and ventricles. This form of cancer can spread in the heart chambers and eventually block the flow of blood into the heart.
Other types of sarcoma are:
- Pleomorphic sarcoma or malignant fibrous histiocytoma
- Undifferentiated sarcoma
- Pericardial mesothelioma – is commonly found in women.
Primary lymphoma is a scarce type of heart cancer; it affects people with low immunity, like HIV-positive patients.
Types of non-malignant heart cancer are:
- Myxoma – the most common form of non-malignant heart cancer
- Fibroma – commonly found in children
- Papillary fibroelastoma – mostly found in elderly people
- Lipoma – this form of heart cancer causes irregular heartbeats
Heart Cancer Causes
Some of the causes of heart cancer are as follows:
- Genetically present cancer syndromes
- Poor immunity system
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Cancer
The most common sign of heart cancer is a medically inexplicable and sudden cardiac failure. In addition, as the growing tumor starts pressing the heart valve, one may face shortness of breath accompanied by extreme fatigue.
Apart from the above, other symptoms of heart cancer are:
- Rapid heart rate – called tachycardia
- Chest pain
- Tightness of chest
- Cough accompanied by sputum
- Chronic back pain
- Loss of memory
- Throwing up blood while coughing
- Blood clots
- Irregular heartbeats - also called arrhythmia
- Sudden loss of weight
- Extreme weakness
- Fever and chills
- Joint pain
- Swelling of ankles and feet
- Night sweats
Risk Factors Associated With Heart Cancer
For malignant heart cancer, the rate of survival is not encouraging. The following figures may help in explaining the statement made:
- One year – 46% of people have succumbed
- Three years – 22% of people diagnosed have died
- Five years – 15% of people have died
A patient diagnosed with malignant heart cancer survives up to 26.2 months on a broad scale. In the case of benign cardiac tumors, the survival rate is much better. The average survival rate is 187.2 months.
Depending on the type of heart cancer, it is found in all ages in the human body. Though most commonly found in older adults, children are also prone to this ailment.
Other risk factors are:
- Sex – males are more prone to this form of cancer than women
- Damaged immunity system – e.g., HIV-positive people are more prone
- Family history determines the likelihood of this condition
- Smoking habits,
- Lack of exercise
- Nutritional imbalance
Scientists believe that certain people are predisposed to primary heart cancer due to their DNA, but the genetic basis of most cancers is still unknown.
Diagnosis and Tests for Heart Cancer
Doctors diagnose heart cancer by enquiring about the patient’s medical history, signs, symptoms, and physical examination, followed by imaging tests. Cardio Oncologists specialize in treating heart cancers.
The tests commonly used to diagnose heart cancer are as under:
- Echocardiogram (ECG)
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Coronary Angiography
- Coronary computed tomography angiogram (CTA)
- CT Scan: to differentiate between a benign and a malignant tumor.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): to ascertain the cancer stage, and devise a treatment plan.
- MUGA Scan
Apart from the above, the doctor often advises chest X-Ray and cardiac catheterization tests for a more accurate diagnosis of heart cancer.
Heart Cancer Treatment and Care
For benign heart cancer:
- Surgical removal of the tumor
- Removing a part of the tumor which is not inside the heart
- A yearly routine of echocardiograms
For malignant heart cancer:
Unfortunately, most of this type of cancer is detected after it has passed the removal stage. Also, cancer often spreads to other parts of the body (metastases). Therefore, chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain the only option to reduce the cancer rate inside the body. If doctors notice pericardial effusion (fluid buildup), they may remove it by placing a needle.
There are a few common drugs doctors prescribe to treat heart cancer patients. The common drugs that are prescribed are as under:
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