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Cardiac Tumors

Although relatively rare, tumors of the heart can cause severe problems.

One of the more common problems is causing fluid to build up between the heart and the pericardium, the sac around the heart. If this is the case, a pericardiectomy may be performed to relieve this pressure long-term. 

The presence of a tumor on the heart may be suspected on chest radiographs (x-rays) and then confirmed via echocardiogram (ultrasound/sonogram of the heart) and/or Computed Tomography (CT/CATscan).

Biopsy is required to definitively diagnose the tumor type.

Hemangiosarcoma is the most common such tumor, and while it is very aggressive, there are many treatment options.

Other tumors include chemodectoma, ectopic thyroid tumors, lymphoma/lymphosarcoma (more common in cats), and even some benign tumors.


Chemodectoma

Chemodectomas are tumors that arise on the chemoreceptors, tissues that sense chemical changes in the body, such as changes in acidity or oxygen content; they tend to grow in the aorta, carotid artery, and/or heart tissues

They are more common in older (> 10 years) Boxers and Boston Terriers

Although most are benign tumors that do not typically spread to distant tissue, their size can compress the heart chambers, large blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and/or the trachea (windpipe). Some of them can indeed spread to distant tissue, affecting those organs as well.

Signs they may cause include:

  • Weakness and/or lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty swallowing (and/or vomiting or regurgitating)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Physical mass in the neck.

They are often too large and/or invasive by the time of discovery to be completely resected (surgically removed), but a biopsy may be performed to identify the tumor type and its associated prognosis.

Computed Tomography (CT/CATscan) can be very helpful in identifying whether they can be surgically removed or not.

If the tumor cannot be removed, a pericardiectomy can be performed to prevent the fluid from compressing the heart; the chest cavity is much larger and can tolerate as well as reabsorb more fluid.

Radiation therapy may be helpful in slowing tumor growth and progression of signs

For more information


Ectopic Thyroid Tumors

The thyroid glands are located in the neck just below/behind the larynx, but sometimes thyroid gland tissue develops in abnormal, or ectopic, locations, such as further down into the neck, in the chest, or even on the heart.

These tumors may be benign or malignant (usually carcinoma)

Thyroid tumors may also be functional (producing excessive thyroid hormone) or non-functional. Functional tumors can be identified by measuring the thyroid hormone level in the bloodstream.

Side effects may be caused by excessive thyroid levels, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiomegally (abnormal enlargement of the heart), or by the mass growing into or compressing portions of the heart.

If large and/or invasive, they may not be amenable to surgical resection, but a biopsy may be performed to identify the tumor type and its associated prognosis.

If the tumor cannot be removed, a pericardiectomy can be performed to prevent the fluid from compressing the heart; the chest cavity is much larger and can tolerate as well as reabsorb more fluid.

Computed Tomography (CT/CATscan) can be very helpful in identifying whether they can be surgically removed or not.

Thyroid tumors may be responsive to radioactive iodine, radiation beam therapy, and/or chemotherapy.

For more information


Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is the most common type of cardiac tumor in dogs

In the heart, it tends to develop in the right auricular appendage, which is an outpouching off of the right atrium (where blood from the body flows back into the heart)

It tends to cause problems by bleeding, which fills the small space between the pericardium (the sac around the heart) and the heart itself. As fluid builds up, pressure on the heart causes weakness, collapse, and potentially congestive heart failure.

Like other heart tumors, it may be suspected on chest radiographs (x-rays) and then confirmed via echocardiogram (ultrasound/sonogram of the heart) and/or Computed Tomography (CT/CATscan).

The pressure can be temporarily relieved by draining the fluid from the sac, but the fluid will recur, often within minutes to days.

Because it originates in blood vessels, hemangiosarcoma tends to metastasize (spread to distant sites) early, and a patient should be evaluated for metastasis (generally chest radiographs and abdominal ultrasound) before considering surgery. Common sites of metastasis are lungs, spleen, liver, and kidney.

If the tumor cannot be removed, a pericardiectomy can be performed to prevent the fluid from compressing the heart; the chest cavity is much larger and can tolerate as well as reabsorb more fluid.

If the tumor can be removed, that will eliminate the bleeding, although the tumor will typically spread within just a few months. Certain board-certified specialists have the experience, skill, and equipment to remove such a tumor. A vascular stapler with three overlapping rows of staples is generally the instrument of choice to facilitate this procedure.

With chemotherapy, the time to recurrence can be significantly or even dramatically improved. A recent study showed a median survival time 18 months, which is a significant time in the life of an older, large breed dog, in which this tumor is most common.

Images courtesy of Dr. Julius Liptak's animalcancersurgeon.com

For more information


Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma

Lymphoma is typically treated with chemotherapy, although surgical biopsy may be indicated to identify the tumor type and its associated prognosis.

For more information


Other tumors

A number of less common tumors may occur, and some of these, such as myxoma, are even benign.

The presence of a tumor on the heart may be suspected on chest radiographs (x-rays) and then confirmed via echocardiogram (ultrasound/sonogram of the heart) and/or Computed Tomography (CT/CATscan).

Biopsy is required to definitively diagnose the tumor type and determine the appropriate prognosis.

For more information


Please schedule an appointment with our board-certified surgeon, Dr. Jeff Christiansen at the clinic of your choice, to evaluate your pet and to discuss options to improve your pet's or patient's length and quality of life.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to e-mail Dr. Christiansen directly.