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Angiosarcoma of the heart

Angiosarcoma is a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma. Angiosarcoma grows from cells that make up the walls of blood vessels. A soft tissue sarcoma is a cancer that develops in the supporting tissues in the body.

Most tumours that start in the heart are non cancerous (benign). About 25 out of 100 (25%) are cancer. Most commonly these are soft tissue sarcomas. 

Causes

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 (has spread to other parts of the body).

Symptoms can include breathlessness, chest pain, or fluid on the lung (pleural effusion).

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. This is called  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, such as the brain, causing 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. Your surgeon aims to remove as much of the cancer as possible, with a border of healthy tissue (margin) around it. After surgery the tissue around the cancer is sent to the laboratory. A specialist doctor (pathologist) looks at the cells under a microscope. They check for any cancer cells left behind. Having a border of healthy tissue without an cancer cells is important. It aims to lower the risk of angiosarcoma coming bak in the same place. 

Unfortunately it is not always possible to completely remove the cancer. It depends on the size of the sarcoma, and where it is in your heart. 

You might also have radiotherapy or chemotherapy as part of your treatment. 

If your sarcoma has spread 

Sadly, angiosarcoma of the heart often grows quickly. In most people who are diagnosed the sarcoma has already spread to other parts of the body. 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. 

Talking to other people

Our discussion forum Cancer Chat is a place for anyone affected by cancer. You can share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through

There are some sarcoma organisations that offer information and support for people with sarcoma and their families. 

Last reviewed: 
19 Jul 2018
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    Oncologist. 2007 Sep; 12(9) pp 1134-42

  • Advances in Image-Guided radiation therapy for cardiac angiosarcoma: The role of PET-CT and MRI 

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    Oncology Research and Treatment 2017 Volume 104, Number 1, pages 290-294

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    N Isambert and others 

    European Journal of Cancer 2014 Volume 50, pages 128-136

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