Heart Tumors in Children

What Are Heart Tumors in Children?

Most tumors that form in the heart are benign (not cancer). Benign heart tumors that may appear in children include the following:

  • Rhabdomyoma: A tumor that forms in muscle made up of long fibers.
  • Myxoma: A tumor that may be part of an inherited syndrome called Carney complex.
  • Teratomas: A type of germ cell tumor. In the heart, these tumors form most often in the pericardium (the sac that covers the heart). Some teratomas are malignant (cancer).
  • Fibroma: A tumor that forms in fiber -like tissue that holds bones, muscles, and other organs in place.
  • Histiocytoid cardiomyopathy tumor: A tumor that forms in the heart cells that control heart rhythm.
  • Hemangiomas: A tumor that forms in the cells that line blood vessels.
  • Neurofibroma: A tumor that forms in the cells and tissues that cover nerves.

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 a fetus or newborn.

Malignant tumors that begin in the heart are even more rare than benign heart tumors in children. Malignant heart tumors include:

  • Malignant teratoma.
  • Lymphoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: A cancer that forms in muscle made up of long fibers.
  • Angiosarcoma: A cancer that forms in cells that line blood vessels or lymph vessels.
  • Chondrosarcoma: A type of cancer that usually forms in bone cartilage but very rarely can begin in the heart.
  • Infantile fibrosarcoma.
  • Synovial sarcoma: A cancer that usually forms around joints but may very rarely form in the heart or sac around the heart.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Tumors in Children?

Heart tumors may cause any of the following signs and symptoms. Check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Change in the heart's normal rhythm.
  • Trouble breathing, especially when the child is lying down.
  • Pain in the middle of the chest that feels better when the child is sitting up.
  • Coughing.
  • Fainting.
  • Feeling dizzy, tired, or weak.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Signs of a stroke.
    • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body).
    • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding.
    • Sudden trouble seeing with one or both eyes.
    • Sudden trouble walking or feeling dizzy.
    • Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
    • Sudden severe headache for no known reason.

Sometimes heart tumors do not cause any signs or symptoms.

Other conditions that are not heart tumors may cause these same signs and symptoms.

How Are Heart Tumors in Children Diagnosed?

Tests to diagnose and stage heart tumors may include the following:

  • Physical exam and history.
  • X-ray of the chest.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI.

Other tests used to diagnose or stage heart tumors include the following:

  • Echocardiogram: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off the heart and nearby tissues or organs and make echoes. A moving picture is made of the heart and heart valves as blood is pumped through the heart.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): A recording of the heart's electrical activity to check its rate and rhythm. A number of small pads (electrodes) are placed on the patient’s chest, arms, and legs, and are connected by wires to the EKG machine. Heart activity is then recorded as a line graph on paper. Electrical activity that is faster or slower than normal may be a sign of heart disease or damage.

What Is the Treatment for Heart Tumors in Children?

Treatment of heart tumors in children may include the following:

  • Watchful waiting for benign tumors of heart muscle (rhabdomyomas), which sometimes shrink and go away on their own.
  • Surgery (which may include removing some or all of the tumor or a heart transplant) and chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy for patients who also have tuberous sclerosis.

Treatment of recurrent heart tumors in children may include the following:

  • A clinical trial that checks a sample of the patient's tumor for certain gene changes. The type of targeted therapy that will be given to the patient depends on the type of gene change.

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The website of the National Cancer Institute (https://www.cancer.gov)

Last updated Oct. 6, 2017