Angiosarcoma of the heart

Angiosarcoma is a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma. It is a type of vascular tumour. Vascular tumours develop from endothelial cells. These cells make up the walls of blood or lymphatic vessels.

Most tumours that start in the heart are non cancerous (benign). About 10 out of 100 (10%) are cancer (malignant). 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 has spread to other parts of the body (advanced disease).

Symptoms can include:

  • breathlessness
  • chest pain
  • feeling like you want to faint or fainting
  • tiredness

When symptoms do happen, they can be similar to those caused by heart failure. They may include breathlessness, chest 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.

Embolisms can also travel to other parts of the body, such as the brain, causing a stroke.

Tests

Your doctor will examine you. You might have one or more of these tests: 

  • 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. Having a border of healthy tissue without any cancer cells is important. It aims to lower the risk of angiosarcoma coming back 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 with 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: 
11 Jun 2021
Next review due: 
11 Jun 2024
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