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Angiosarcoma of the heart

Read about angiosarcoma of the heart and how it might be treated.

Cancers of the heart

Tumours that affect the heart are very rare. It is more usual for a cancer that started somewhere else in the body to spread to the heart. 

Most tumours that start in the heart are not cancer, they are benign. About 1 in 4 (25%) are cancers. Most commonly these are soft tissue sarcomas.

Soft tissue connects, supports, and surrounds the other structures and organs of the body. Angiosarcomas are a type of soft tissue sarcoma that grow from cells that make up the walls of blood vessels.

Causes of angiosarcoma of the heart

We don’t know what causes angiosarcoma of the heart. Some of these cancers have been linked to past radiotherapy treatment. But as it is such a rare cancer, it is difficult to find a common cause.

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary depending on where in the heart the cancer is. Many people don’t have any symptoms until the cancer is advanced.

When symptoms do happen, they can be similar to those caused by heart failure.  They may include breathlessness, heart pain, or fluid on the lung (pleural effusion).

Sometimes a small piece of the tumour can break off and form a small clump or clot that blocks a blood vessel. Doctors call this an embolism. If an embolism travels through the bloodstream, it can block a blood vessel near the heart, causing pain (angina).

Embolisms can also travel to other parts of the body, for example, the brain, where they can cause a stroke.

Tests

If doctors suspect that someone has a tumour of the heart, they might arrange for you to have:

  • an MRI scan
  • an ultrasound to look at the valves and structure of the heart (an echocardiogram)
  • an ECG (electrocardiogram)

Treatment

The main treatment for angiosarcoma of the heart is surgery to completely remove the cancer. Unfortunately, in most people it isn't possible to take all the tumour out.The cancer is likely to come back unless the surgeon can remove all the tumour with a border of cancer free tissue around it.

Other treatments for angiosarcoma of the heart include chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

Sadly, angiosarcoma of the heart is often a quickly growing disease. In about 8 out of 10 people, the cancer has already spread to another part of the body when it is diagnosed.

The most common place for it to spread is the lungs. In this situation, surgery won't cure it.

The doctor may offer other treatment to try and control the disease and relieve any symptoms for a time.

Coping

Being diagnosed wtih cancer is hard to cope with. A lot of people with rare cancers also say they feel isolated.

It can be more difficult to find information about rare cancers and to find other people who have the same type of cancer as you.

Talking to other people going through something similar can be helpful, even if they don’t have exactly the same cancer type. 

Last reviewed: 
03 Mar 2015
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    VT. De Vita, TS. Lawrence, and SA. Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Wiliams and Wilkins, 2008

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    Journal of Vascular Surgery 2013 March;57(3).pp 756-64

  • Cardiac angiosarcoma management and outcomes: 20-year single-institution experience
    NJ. Look Hong (and others)
    Annals of Surgical Oncology 2012 Aug;19(8):2707-15

  • Primary malignant sarcomas of the heart and great vessels in adult patients--a single-center experience
    F. Mayer (and others)
    Oncologist. 2007 Sep; 12(9) pp 1134-42

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