Heart Tumors & Cardiac Masses | MedStar Health

Expert heart tumor care from the first cardio-oncology program in Baltimore/Washington, D.C.

Cardiac tumors and masses either can start growing in the heart (primary) or elsewhere in the body and travel to the heart (secondary). If your tumor turns out to be heart cancer, the expert care team in our Cardio-oncology Program will work closely with your oncologist to ensure your heart is protected during and after cancer treatment.

Most cardiac tumors are benign, or noncancerous. Benign tumors usually do not cause symptoms until they become large and may block blood flow in the heart or break into pieces and float elsewhere in the body. In rare occasions, they can cause heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, or strokes.


Primary heart tumors affect as few as 1 in 100,000 people, most of them women. Of these rare tumors, the most common type is myxoma. Most myxomas are caused by excess cell growth in the heart. They can be hereditary or can develop because of another disease, such as Carney syndrome, NAME syndrome, or LAMB syndrome.

Secondary heart tumors are more common. These tumors migrate to the heart after starting to grow in another organ, such as the lungs, breast, kidneys, liver, or colon. Sometimes secondary tumors are related to skin, lymph node, or blood cancers.


Cardiac tumors usually don’t cause noticeable symptoms until blood flow is blocked. In fact, tumors in the heart often are found by chance during imaging tests for other health concerns.

If blood flow is blocked in the top left part of the heart (the left atrium), you may experience:

  • Coughing
  • Joint pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath

When a tumor or an abnormal mass is found in the heart, it is very important to establish a correct diagnosis. Advanced imaging tests and sometimes heart biopsy may be recommended.


Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


Open-heart surgery to remove the heart tumor is generally the preferred treatment. Whether your doctor recommends surgery will depend on your overall health, the size of your tumor, and whether it causes symptoms. Our heart surgeons perform a variety of procedures, including minimally invasive options.

Heart Surgery

Surgery is an option to treat many heart conditions. You may need heart surgery either as a lifesaving procedure or when other treatments haven’t worked.

Read our Cardiovascular Performance & Outcomes Booklet


Have questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net.