Childhood cardiac tumors, which may be benign or malignant, form in the heart.
Most tumors that form in the heart are benign (not cancer). Benign heart tumors that may appear in children include the following:
Before birth and in newborns, the most common benign heart tumors are teratomas. An inherited condition called tuberous sclerosis can cause heart tumors to form in an unborn baby (fetus) or newborn.
Cardiac tumors are rare tumors that form in the tissues of the heart, including muscle tissue, connective tissue, and tissues that line the blood vessels, control heart rhythm, and cover the nerves of the heart. They may also form in the pericardium (the sac around the heart). Most cardiac tumors are benign (not cancer), but some may be malignant (cancer).
Malignant tumors that begin in the heart are even more rare than benign heart tumors in children. Malignant heart tumors include:
When cancer begins in another part of the body and spreads to the heart, it is called metastatic cancer. Some types of cancer, such as sarcoma, melanoma, and leukemia, start in other parts of the body and spread to the heart. This summary is about cancer that first forms in the heart, not metastatic cancer.
Signs and symptoms of a heart tumor include a change in the heart's normal rhythm and trouble breathing.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by heart tumors or by other conditions.
Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:
Sometimes heart tumors do not cause any signs or symptoms.
Tests that examine the heart are used to diagnose a heart tumor.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
The process used to find out if malignant heart tumors (cancer) have spread from the heart to nearby areas or other parts of the body is called staging. There is no standard staging system for malignant childhood heart tumors. The results of tests and procedures done to diagnose malignant heart tumors are used to help make decisions about treatment.
Sometimes malignant childhood heart tumors recur (come back) after treatment.
There are different types of treatment for children with heart tumors.
Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Children with heart tumors should have their treatment planned by a team of doctors who are experts in treating childhood cancer.
Treatment of malignant heart tumors will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health professionals who are experts in treating children with cancer and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. This may include the following specialists and others:
Five types of treatment are used:
Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. This treatment may be used for rhabdomyoma.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy).
When possible, the cancer is removed by surgery. Types of surgery that may be done include the following:
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the area of the body with cancer.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do.
Targeted therapy is also being studied for the treatment of malignant childhood heart tumors that have recurred (come back).
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment for childhood heart tumors may cause side effects.
For information about side effects that begin during treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Side effects from cancer treatment that begin after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include:
Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the possible late effects caused by some treatments. See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of newly diagnosed childhood heart tumors may include the following:
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of malignant recurrent childhood tumors may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about childhood heart tumors, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of childhood cardiac (heart) tumors. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Reviewers and Updates
Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Updated") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Cardiac (Heart) Tumors Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/cardiac/patient-child-cardiac-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
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Last Revised: 2021-05-20
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