Is Heart Cancer Possible?

Li Liu, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
Could you please answer me why the heart is the only organ in the human body which is not attacked by cancer. What does the heart have to protect itself that the other organs don't?  

Li Liu, MD, OncoLink Editorial Assistant, responds:

Dear V:
Thank you for your interest and question.

Unfortunately, just like almost all the other tissues and organs, malignant tumors do occur in the heart. In addition, malignant tumors can spread to the heart from other sites (metastasis). Metastatic tumors to the heart are more prevalent than primary cardiac tumors, and the incidence is increasing as antineoplastic treatment results in longer survival (Cancer 1980; 45:2659).

Primary malignant tumors of the lining of the heart (pericardium) are exceedingly rare. However, tumors of the heart muscle do sometimes develop. Sarcomas are by far the most prevalent malignant tumors of the heart muscles (myocardium), angiosarcoma being the most common. Other malignant cardiac tumors that have been reported in the literature include rhabdomyosarcomas, mesotheliomas, fibrosarcomas, malignant fibrous histiocytomas, and lymphomas (Cancer 1992; 69:387). Establishing the diagnosis of a cardiac malignancy is sometimes difficult because of their nonspecific clinical presentation. Surgery is the treatment of choice for most primary malignant cardiac tumors. Because the resection is often incomplete due to the extent and invasiveness of the tumor, radiation therapy can be used in conjunction with surgical resection. In general, the prognosis of a cardiac malignant tumor is poor.