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Unusual Cancers of Childhood (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Unusual Cancers of the Chest


In children, the most common benign heart tumors are rhabdomyomas and fibromas. Before birth and in newborns, the most common benign heart tumors are teratomas. An inherited disorder 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 tumors in children. Some of these include:

  • Malignant teratoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: A cancer that forms in muscle made up of long fibers.
  • Chondrosarcoma: A type of cancer that usually forms in bone cartilage but very rarely can begin in the heart.
  • Infantile fibrosarcoma.

Some cancers, such as rhabdomyosarcoma, melanoma, and leukemia, spread to the heart from other parts of the body. These tumors are malignant.

Symptoms and Diagnostic and Staging Tests

Heart tumors may cause any of the following symptoms. Check with your child's doctor if you see any of the following problems in your child:

  • Change in the heart's normal rhythm.
  • Trouble breathing, particularly when you are lying down.
  • Pain in the middle of the chest that feels better when you are sitting up.
  • Coughing.
  • Fainting.
  • Feeling dizzy, tired, or weak.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen.
  • Feeling anxious.

Heart tumors sometimes cause sudden death without causing any symptoms.

Other conditions that are not heart tumors may cause these same symptoms. Sometimes heart tumors do not cause any symptoms at all.

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

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

See the General Information section for a description of these tests and procedures.

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 evaluate 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.


Treatment for heart tumors in children may include the following:

  • Watchful waiting for benign tumors of heart muscle (rhabdomyomas), which usually shrink and go away on their own.
  • Surgery (which may include a heart transplant) and chemotherapy for tumors that spread to the heart from other places in the body.


Malignant mesothelioma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the pleura (the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs) or the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most of the organs in the abdomen). The tumors often spread over the surface of organs without spreading into the organ. They may spread to lymph nodes nearby or in other parts of the body.


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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