Heart Tumor | Diagnosis & Treatment

How are heart tumors diagnosed?

Heart tumors often begin growing even before a child is born. It is often possible to detect tumors early, sometimes as soon as 20 weeks into the pregnancy, by using diagnostic tools such as fetal ultrasound. However, some tumors may not be discovered until later in pregnancy or after birth.

Since heart tumors often mimic symptoms of more common conditions, diagnosis requires imaging the heart. Your child’s doctor may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose a heart tumor: 

  • echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart): sound waves pass through the chest to create an image of the heart, outline the tumor and evaluate blood flow
  • cardiovascular MRI: evaluates the structure and function of the heart and blood vessels and determine the type of tumor
  • cardiac CT: used to visualize the heart, blood vessels and lungs
  • chest x-ray: may show abnormalities that lead to detailed cardiac imaging
  • cardiac catheterization: evaluates blockage of blood flow from the tumor and coronary arteries
  • electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): measures the electrical activity of the heart and evaluates for arrhythmia 
  • holter monitor: measures the rhythm of the heart and evaluates for an arrhythmia

How are benign heart tumors treated?

Benign (non cancerous) cardiac tumors are often very large. This can cause compression of vital cardiac structures in the heart and obstruct blood flow. Most heart tumors are treated with surgery, but treatment options may depend on the size, location, and type of the tumor as well as the child’s  heart function.

Removing a heart tumor usually requires open-heart surgery. During the procedure, the surgeon will remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue from the heart. Then they will preform any necessary repairs or reconstruction to make sure the heart functions properly.

Can heart tumors be cured?

Most benign heart tumors can be managed effectively in children so that they are able to live long, healthy lives. Whether or not a child can be cured depends on the type of the tumor, as well as where it is located and how large it has grown. For example, rhabdomyomas will generally shrink in size over time and rarely cause issues in older children and adults. Other tumors, such as intrapericardial teratomas and myxomas, can often be completely removed with surgery.

How are malignant heart tumors treated?

Treatment for malignant (cancerous) heart tumors often includes radiation, chemotherapy and management of symptoms. In some cases, surgery or heart transplantation may be a treatment option.