Heart Cancer: What is it?

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Heart cancer is rare and difficult to detect. Tumors can develop in the heart’s chamber walls or valves. If diagnosed early, chemotherapy and radiation can be effective, but treatment can damage the heart. Symptoms can mimic other heart conditions, and cancer can develop as a secondary cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve chances of recovery.

Heart cancer is an extremely rare form of cancer that occurs in the tissues of the heart. Tumors can develop in the chamber walls or in the valves that allow blood to pass between sections of the heart. This type of cancer is difficult to detect and treatment can cause serious damage to the patient’s heart.
Unlike cells in many parts of the body, such as skin, blood or bone, heart cells often don’t divide. This is believed to be the main reason why heart cancer is extremely rare. Although tumors are seen fairly regularly in the heart, the vast majority of these are benign. Cancer can travel to the heart from another part of the body or it can develop as a primary cancer in the heart, although both of these conditions occur extremely rarely.

If heart cancer is diagnosed early enough, the patient has a good chance of making a full recovery. This type of cancer responds to chemotherapy and radiation, although the use of either of these treatments in heart tissue can lead to complications with the heart muscle itself. If a patient recovers from heart cancer, treatments can leave that patient vulnerable to various heart conditions later in life. It is also possible to surgically remove cancerous portions of a patient’s heart, although these procedures are difficult to perform and often traumatic for the patient.

Heart cancer symptoms can mimic the symptoms of a variety of conditions affecting the heart, and because of this, the presence of cancer may not be immediately apparent. An irregular heartbeat, heart murmurs, wheezing, angina, and fever are all common symptoms of heart cancer that could easily be associated with a plethora of other causes. Serious symptoms of heart cancer can include a heart attack or a malfunction of one or more heart valves. The surgeries used to treat these serious conditions can reveal cancer, although by the time surgery is needed, the cancer may have progressed to much of the heart.

In many cases, heart cancer can also develop as a secondary cancer of melanoma or sarcoma. Lymphoma that starts near a patient’s heart can also spread to the heart. In all of these cases, early diagnosis and a good treatment plan can improve the patient’s chances of fighting both primary cancer and secondary heart cancer.

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