Before you begin reading about heart tumors, please read the explanation of how the normal heart works for a basic understanding of its structure and function.
Heart tumors are an abnormal growth in the heart muscle or in one of the cardiac chambers. Heart tumors, also called cardiac tumors, are extremely rare in children. Most are non-malignant (benign or not cancerous). Even if the tumor is not cancerous it is a very serious concern, because it can interfere with the heart’s function. A tumor can obstruct the heart valves, press on the veins and arteries attached to the heart, interfere with the electrical system that controls the heart’s beating, and cause other problems.
There are different kinds of heart tumors in children. Most common by far are non-malignant tumors called rhabdomyomas. These are most often found on the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) and less frequently on the upper chambers (the atria). Often, more than one tumor will be present. Cardiac rhabdomyomas are more common in babies less than 1 year of age than in older children. Many of the children who develop them have an uncommon condition called tuberous sclerosis, in which additional tumors can form on the skin, brain and other organs. Fortunately, some rhabdomyomas spontaneously shrink or disappear on their own, without treatment.
Other types of non-malignant heart tumors include:
Types of malignant heart tumors include:
These are extremely rare.
There are other types of heart tumors. Your doctor will discuss your child’s heart condition with you in detail to explain the tumor.
Symptoms of heart tumors include:
Depending on the type of tumor, older children might experience unexplained weight loss, joint or muscle pain, fatigue and frequent fevers. Sometimes the tumor doesn’t cause symptoms.
Heart failure can result from a heart tumor. Symptoms of heart failure in children include difficulty breathing, difficulty eating, excessive sweating and poor growth.
Sudden death can occur as a result of a heart tumor, even when the tumor hasn’t caused any previous symptoms.
Some heart tumors are diagnosed prenatally (before the baby is born), when a doctor sees the tumor during fetal echocardiogram. In some cases, the Fetal Heart Program can monitor baby and mother throughout the pregnancy and create a plan for labor and care after birth. Children’s Hospital has its own delivery unit, the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit (SDU), on the same floor as the cardiac operating rooms and cardiac patient care units. Newborns can be in the care of pediatric cardiologists and specially trained cardiac nurses immediately. The Fetal Heart Program team will discuss delivery in the SDU with mother and family.
After the baby is born, diagnosis may include:
Rarely, cardiac catheterization will be required. A thin tube is inserted into the heart through a vein or artery in the leg or through the umbilicus (“belly button”).
Treatment options will vary depending on the size of the tumor, the type of tumor and to what extent it is interfering with heart function. Surgery might be necessary for the following reasons:
When a child has surgery to remove a heart tumor, the surgeon might also need to perform other repairs. For instance, if the tumor has affected a heart valve, the surgeon would attempt to fix the valve.
Treatment options for different types of tumors:
Sometimes the tumor will have damaged or “infiltrated” the heart to such an extent that heart transplant will be required.
If the tumor is cancerous, a surgeon will attempt to remove it. Chemotherapy and/or other therapies may be necessary.
A child who has had a heart tumor will require life-long care by a cardiologist, and early care by an oncologist may be necessary. Some types of tumors can recur (reappear). Problems caused by the tumor, such as arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), may require additional treatment, such as medications or the placement of a pacemaker.
Your child will need to visit a pediatric cardiologist for checkups once a year or more frequently.
Reviewed by: Gil Wernovsky, MD
Date: August 2010
For a second opinion, cardiac referral, or for more information.
To schedule an outpatient appointment.