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Canine Heart Tumors

Issue Description
The primary tumors of the heart are tumors that arise from the normal tissues that make up the heart. This is in contrast to secondary tumors of the heart, which are typically either metastatic from another part of the body, or infiltrate the heart via direct extension from the surrounding tissues.
Other Names
Heart Tumors

Myocardial Tumors
Myocardial tumors refer to tumors that specifically affect the heart. These types of tumors are rare, and when they do occur, they tend to occur in older dogs. Benign tumors are masses of tissue that do not metastasize, whereas malignant tumors metastasize throughout the body. Abnormal tissue growth arising from the blood vessels in the heart can be malignant, as with hemangiosarcomas - rare, rapidly reproducing tissue growths; or they may be benign, as is the case with hemangiomas - harmless growths consisting mainly of newly formed blood or lymph vessels.

When a tumor arises from the fibrous tissue, like heart valve tissue, the tumor is called a fibroma if it is benign, and a fibrosarcoma if it is malignant. There are also tumors that develop in the softer, connective tissue in the upper chambers of the heart (atria). Benign tumors of this sort are called myxomas, and malignant tumors are called myxosarcomas. Tumors that arise from the skeletal muscle in the heart are referred to as rhabdomyosarcomas, and they are always malignant.

There are also tumors that can spread to the heart secondarily. Some tumors which do not arise in the heart, but which spread to it are: lymphomas - malignant tumors of the lymph nodes; neurofibromas - benign tumors of nerve fiber origin; granular cell tumors - origin is unknown, and they can be malignant or benign; and osteosarcomas - malignant tumors that originate in the bone.

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing, even while at rest
  • Sudden collapse
  • Exercise intolerance
  • General fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloated, fluid filled abdomen

  • Diagnosis
    Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, including a baseline blood work profile. This will include a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel. A chest x-ray and ultrasound imaging will allow your veterinarian to visually examine the heart, so that a complete assessment can be made of the heart and any masses that are present within it. An electrocardiogram (ECG, or EKG) recording can be used to examine the electrical currents in the heart muscles, and may reveal any abnormalities in cardiac electrical conduction (which underlies the heart's ability to contract/beat). Your veterinarian may also need to take a surgical tissue sample of the mass for biopsy.

    If the mass in the heart is extensive, or has begun to spread through the body, surgical resection is still the recommended treatment of choice for most heart tumors. This holds even if the surgery will not cure the condition, but if the tumor is benign, surgical resection may be curative. Chemotherapy can be administered in the case of malignant heart tumors, but unfortunately, in many cases patients will die in spite of treatment.

    The final prognosis for most malignant myocardial tumors is guarded to poor.

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