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Angiosarcoma of the heart

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

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. 


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 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, 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.


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)


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 an 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.


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
  • Cancer principles and practice of oncology (8th edition)
    VT. De Vita, TS. Lawrence, and SA. Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Wiliams and Wilkins, 2008

  • Primary angiosarcoma of the aorta, great vessels, and the heart
    J. Fatima (and others)
    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

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

    K Elsayad and others 

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

  • Primary cardiac sarcomas: A retrospective study of the French Sarcoma group 

    N Isambert and others 

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

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