A myxoma is a benign tumor mainly found in the left or right atrium of the heart, although they can also be found in other locations in the body. The main characteristic that differentiates a myxoma from other heart tumors is that they are pedunculated. Pedunculated means that the tumor is attached to an elongated mass of tissue. Approximately 75% of myxomas form in the left atrium of the heart, with the rest forming in the right atrium. Myxomas are also one of the few heart tumors that actually start in the heart. Most heart tumors start elsewhere and travel to the heart.
Myxoma Signs & Symptoms
Patients may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, and heart palpitations. Often these symptoms are most noticeable when the patient changes body position, such as going from sitting upright to lying down. Other symptoms include “blueness” of the skin that is caused by a lack of oxygen to the bloodstream. In some cases curvature of the fingernails and clubbing of the fingers can occur.
Initial diagnosis of myxoma is usually as simple as your doctor listening to your heart. If things don’t sound right they may order an echocardiograph, which is a sonogram of the heard. They listen for a “tumor plop”. This is a sound associated with movement of the tumor. MRIs and a CBC (complete blood count) are also used to diagnose myxoma.
Currently the only known treatment for a myxoma is surgery. During surgery your mitral valve might also be replaced if necessary. If all of the tumor cells are not removed the myxoma can come back.
While myxomas are not cancer, they can lead to dangerous complications. As they grow they can begin to interfere with blood flow to the heart. This can lead to an embolism, which is when the cells travel from the heart to other parts of the body. Other potential complications include arrhythmias and pulmonary edemas. Arrhythmias are disorders where the heart rate becomes too fast or too slow. Pulmonary edemas occur when the heart fails to pump enough blood throughout the rest of the body. Early detection is the best way to treat myxomas. With a successful surgery prognosis is generally very good.