Signs & Symptoms of Heart Cancer


Heart cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer that begins as a malignant tumor within the tissue of the heart. Often referred to as a cardiac sarcoma, the abnormal cells develop in certain sections of the heart more so than others, such as the right atrium or along the outer layer of the heart known as the pericardium. And much like any form of cancer, the symptoms will vary from person to person.


For some people with cancer of the heart, no symptoms will manifest at all, even in later stages of the disease. This is largely due to the cancerous tumor never truly affecting the overall function of the organ. However, it's also quite possible that the symptoms a person experiences are so subtle that they never cause any alarm. It isn't until a routine examination that the condition is diagnosed.


One of the more common symptoms of heart cancer is pain. This pain is usually isolated to the chest, but it may also diffuse out into neighboring regions of the body. When the tumor grows, especially along the pericardium wall, it can cause fluid to accumulate within the pericardial sac, which is a protective lining that surrounds the heart. Over time, the fluid can affect the way the heart actually pumps blood and prompt some level of chest pain.

Shortness of Breath

As the overall function of the heart is impacted by the growth of cancerous cells, it can eventually take a toll on the circulation of blood, limiting the amount of oxygen passed throughout the body. With a decrease of this element in the system, respiration can become altered, triggering a shortness of breath or an unexplained sensation of feeling winded. If this condition persists, the person may become more easily fatigued or exhausted, not only from highly physical exertion, but also day-to-day activities.


It's also not uncommon to suffer from periodic heart palpitations while living with a cardiac sarcoma. When a tumor develops within any portion of the heart, the way in which its muscles relax and contract can become affected, eliciting a change in rhythm. This can be felt as an irregular or uneven heartbeat, as well as a rapid or pounding pulse.


Another potential symptom of heart cancer is swelling within the outer extremities of the body. This is usually an indication of some sort of obstruction within the heart, limiting either the intake or output of blood from this particular vessel. As time goes by, fluid may begin to accumulate within the feet, ankles or lower legs. For others, it may even cause some distention (or swelling) within the abdominal region.


Though not necessarily as common as other symptoms of this condition, the person may also suffer from a stroke due to a cardiac sarcoma. In this situation, the symptom is actually a result of a portion of the tumor breaking off from itself and creating a blockage within a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain. This restricts the passage of blood, oxygen and nutrients to this area of the body, causing the brain to react in this fashion.

Other Symptoms

While these may be some of the more common signs of heart cancer, some people may develop other symptoms of the condition that would be considered "non-specific" to the disease. For some, a sarcoma of the heart may elicit night sweats or a loss in weight. Others may begin to experience an elevation in body temperature, resulting in periodic fevers. Some may even go into heart failure due to the cancerous growth. How symptoms manifest depends on the individual, the location of the malignant tissue and the stage of the disease .

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