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Primary tumors of the heart are rare. Approximately three-quarters are histologically benign, and the majority of these tumors are myxomas. Malignant tumors, almost all of which are sarcomas, account for 25% of primary cardiac tumors. All cardiac tumors, regardless of pathologic type, have the potential to cause life-threatening complications. Many tumors are now surgically curable; thus, early diagnosis is imperative.

Clinical presentation

Cardiac tumors may present with a wide array of cardiac and noncardiac manifestations. These manifestations depend in large part on the location and size of the tumor and are often nonspecific features of more common forms of heart disease, such as chest pain, syncope, heart failure, murmurs, arrhythmias, conduction disturbances, and pericardial effusion with or without tamponade. Additionally, embolic phenomena and constitutional symptoms may occur.


Myxomas are the most common type of primary cardiac tumor in adults, accounting for one-third to one-half of all cases at postmortem examination, and about three-quarters of the tumors treated surgically. They occur at all ages, most commonly in the third through sixth decades, with a female predilection. Approximately 90% of myxomas are sporadic; the remainder are familial with autosomal dominant transmission. The familial variety often occurs as part of a syndrome complex (Carney complex) that includes (1) myxomas (cardiac, skin, and/or breast), (2) lentigines and/or pigmented nevi, and (3) endocrine overactivity (primary nodular adrenal cortical disease with or without Cushing’s syndrome, testicular tumors, and/or pituitary adenomas with gigantism or acromegaly). Certain constellations of findings have been referred to as the NAME syndrome (nevi, atrial myxoma, myxoid neurofibroma, and ephelides) or the LAMB syndrome (lentigines, atrial myxoma, and blue nevi), although these syndromes probably represent subsets of the Carney complex. The genetic basis of this complex has not been elucidated completely; however, patients frequently have inactivating mutations in the tumor-suppressor gene PRKAR1A, which encodes the protein kinase A type I-α regulatory subunit.

Pathologically, myxomas are gelatinous structures that consist of myxoma cells embedded in a stroma rich in glycosaminoglycans. Most are solitary, arise from the interatrial septum in the vicinity of the fossa ovalis (particularly the left atrium), and are often pedunculated on a fibrovascular stalk. In contrast to sporadic tumors, familial or syndromic tumors tend to occur in younger individuals, are often multiple, may be ventricular in location, and are more likely to recur after initial resection.

Myxomas commonly present with obstructive signs and symptoms. The most common clinical presentation mimics that of mitral valve disease: either stenosis owing to tumor prolapse into the mitral orifice or regurgitation resulting from tumor-induced valvular trauma. Ventricular myxomas may cause outflow obstruction similar to that caused by subaortic or subpulmonic stenosis. The symptoms and signs of myxoma may be sudden in onset ...

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