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UT Southwestern Medical Center’s cancer experts use the most advanced techniques and technologies to diagnose and care for patients with intracardiac tumors. We work closely with our colleagues in cardiothoracic surgery to provide complete care for these tumors of the heart. 

As the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas, we deliver the best cancer care available today and push to discover new treatments. NCI designation means we offer patients the ability to participate in the broadest possible range of clinical trials, with access to potential therapies not available at other facilities.

A Skilled Team for a Complex Cancer

Intracardiac cancer occurs in the heart muscle. Most intracardiac tumors develop as a result of a primary cancer in another part of the body that spreads (metastasizes) to the heart. Those that develop as primary cancers are typically soft-tissue sarcomas, which are very rare.

UT Southwestern’s skilled chest (thoracic) cancer specialists – who often work closely with their colleagues in cardiothoracic surgery – are skilled and experienced in diagnosing and treating this complex disease. 

Causes and Symptoms

In most cases, intracardiac cancer results from cell overgrowth that either starts in or moves to the heart. These types of tumors can run in families or be related to another health condition, such as carney complex. 

Many patients have no symptoms related to intracardiac cancer. In some cases, the tumor can block blood flow through the heart, which can cause shortness of breath, a cough, or even a stroke. 

Diagnosing Intracardiac Cancer

Sometimes intracardiac tumors are discovered inadvertently when a patient has a echocardiogram for another reason. In other cases, a doctor will conduct a physical examination and order cardiac imaging tests to diagnose intracardiac cancer. 

These tests might include:

  • Chest X-ray: X-rays help visualize abnormalities in the heart.
  • Contrast enhanced or multidetector computed tomography (CT) scan: CT technology helps physicians visualize the location and extent of intracardiac cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI helps physicians identify suspicious areas that could indicate intracardiac cancer and learn if, and how far, it has spread.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET): Cancer cells absorb large amounts of radioactive sugar used in this technique, and a special camera creates images of that radioactivity, enabling physicians to identify cancerous cells in the heart.
  • Endoscopic ultrasonography: This technology maps sound waves to enable physicians to visualize intracardiac cancer.

Additional testing might include a tissue sample (biopsy) of cardiac tissue to determine the presence of cancer. 

Treatment for Intracardiac Cancer

The risk of harming the health and function of the heart makes intracardiac cancer particularly challenging to treat. Treatment options depend on the cancer’s precise location and stage; the patient’s overall health, goals, and preferences; and other factors. 

At UT Southwestern, we typically use image-guided, highly precise surgical techniques to resect (remove) intracardiac tumors. 

Support Services

To treat the whole patient, not just the cancer, UT Southwestern offers other resources patients might need during the cancer journey, such as nutrition counselingsupport groups for patients and their families, specialized physical therapy and rehabilitation, lifestyle education, genetic counseling, and more.

Clinical Trials

Depending on the cause and extent of the intracardiac cancer, some patients might be eligible to participate in clinical trials of new treatments for the disease. UT Southwestern conducts clinical trials aimed at improving the care and outcomes of patients with intracardiac cancer. Patients should speak with their doctor about this option.