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Cardiac (Heart) Tumours - Childhood

Heart tumours

Most tumours that form in the heart are benign (not cancer). Benign heart tumours that may appear in children include the following:

  • Rhabdomyoma: A tumour that forms in muscle made up of long fibers.
  • Myxoma: A tumour that may be part of an inherited syndrome called Carney complex. (See the Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Syndromes section for more information.)
  • Teratomas: A type of germ cell tumour. In the heart, these tumours form most often in the pericardium (the sac that covers the heart). Some teratomas are malignant (cancer).
  • Fibroma: A tumour that forms in fiber -like tissue that holds bones, muscles, and other organs in place.
  • Histiocytoid cardiomyopathy tumour: A tumour that forms in the heart cells that control heart rhythm.
  • Hemangiomas: A tumour that forms in the cells that line blood vessels.
  • Neurofibroma: A tumour that forms in the cells and tissues that cover nerves.

Before birth and in newborns, the most common benign heart tumours are teratomas. An inherited disorder called tuberous sclerosis can cause heart tumours to form in a fetus or newborn.

Malignant tumours that begin in the heart are even more rare than benign tumours in children. Some of these include:

  • Malignant teratoma.
  • Lymphoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: A cancer that forms in muscle made up of long fibers.
  • Angiosarcoma: A cancer that forms in cells that line blood vessels or lymph vessels. More information can be found here
  • Chondrosarcoma: A type of cancer that usually forms in bone cartilage but very rarely can begin in the heart.

Some cancers, such as rhabdomyosarcoma, melanoma, leukemia, thymoma, and carcinomas, spread to the heart from other parts of the body. These tumours are malignant.

Symptoms and Diagnostic and Staging Tests

Heart tumours may cause any of the following symptoms. Check with your child’s doctor if you see any of the following problems in your child:

  • Change in the heart's normal rhythm.
  • Trouble breathing, particularly when you are lying down.
  • Pain in the middle of the chest that feels better when you are sitting up.
  • Coughing.
  • Fainting.
  • Feeling dizzy, tired, or weak.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Signs of a stroke.
    • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body).
    • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding.
    • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
    • Sudden trouble walking or feeling dizzy.
    • Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
    • Sudden severe headache for no known reason.

Sometimes heart tumours do not cause any symptoms at all and sudden death may occur.

Other conditions that are not heart tumours may cause these same symptoms.

Tests to diagnose and stage heart tumours may include the following:

  • Physical exam and history.
  • X-ray of the chest.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI.

Other tests used to diagnose or stage heart tumours include the following:

  • Echocardiogram: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off the heart and nearby tissues or organs and make echoes. A moving picture is made of the heart and heart valves as blood is pumped through the heart.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): A recording of the heart's electrical activity to evaluate its rate and rhythm. A number of small pads (electrodes) are placed on the patient’s chest, arms, and legs, and are connected by wires to the EKG machine. Heart activity is then recorded as a line graph on paper. Electrical activity that is faster or slower than normal may be a sign of heart disease or damage.


Treatment for heart tumours in children may include the following:

  • Watchful waiting for benign tumours of heart muscle (rhabdomyomas), which sometimes shrink and go away on their own.
  • Surgery (which may include removing some or all of the tumour or a heart transplant) and chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy, for patients who also have tuberous sclerosis.

For more information on Childhood Cardiac (Heart) tumours click here

This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.