Cardiac myxoma

Cardiac myxomas, although uncommon are one of the commonest primary cardiac tumours and account for ~50% primary benign cardiac tumours

Cardiac myxomas are the most common primary cardiac tumour in adults but are relatively infrequent in childhood, where cardiac rhabdomyomas are more frequent 8. There is a broad range in the age of presentation (11-82 years), with most patients presenting in adulthood (mean ~50 years of age) 7. There is a recognised female predilection 7.

Approximately 20% of patients are asymptomatic, with myxomas being found incidentally on imaging of the heart 7. Presumably, as the amount of imaging increases, so will this figure.

Clinical features are variable and depend on the location and other associated pathology, e.g. valve destruction. However, a triad of symptoms is recognised 7-8:

  1. valvular obstruction
    • left sided: dyspnoea, orthopnoea, pulmonary oedema
    • right sided: symptoms of right heart failure
  2. embolic event
    • distribution will depend on the location of the tumour
    • most are left sided, and, therefore, most are systemic (brain or extremities)
  3. constitutional symptoms

In ~20% of patients, arrhythmias may be identified 7.

On auscultation, a cardiac murmur is usually present. A characteristic finding in patients with pedunculated and prolapsing myxoma is the so-called "tumour plop" 7.

Controversy exists in regards to the exact nature of these masses, but in general, they are considered benign neoplasms. Some authors believe that they represent organised thrombus. 

Morphologically they are often haemorrhagic and are of variable firmness. They can be sessile or pedunculated (commoner) and of variable size (1-10 cm). They most frequently arise in the left atrium, attached to the interatrial septum in the region of the fossa ovale.

Patients with atrial myxomas can be divided into two groups: typical (vast majority) and atypical 7,9:

  • typical: solitary with ~75% located in the left atrium
  • atypical: earlier presentation; multiple tumours are common and are more frequently located in the right heart or left ventricle

Overall distribution 8,9:

  • atria (95%)
    • left (75%)
    • right (20%)
  • ventricles (5%)

An uncommon but well-described association with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes has been described, and is known as Carney complex 7-8.

Chest radiographs can be normal 2. Abnormalities, if present, are non-specific and include:

Echocardiography is usually the initial modality used for identification and evaluation of cardiac myxomas. They appear as hyperechogenic lesions with a well-defined stalk. Moreover, echocardiography can be useful to assess the mobility of the tumour, as it often protrudes through valve flaps.

Myxomas, as is the case with other cardiac tumours, appear as intracardiac masses, most often in the left atrium and attached to the interatrial septum. They are usually heterogeneously low attenuating (approximately two-thirds of cases 2,8). Due to repeated episodes of haemorrhage, dystrophic calcification is common 8

If the mass is pedunculated, the motion within the heart can be demonstrated, including prolapse through the mitral valve.

MRI appearances are heterogeneous, reflecting the non-uniformity of these masses. They are typically spherical or ovoid masses which may be sessile or pedunculated 2,3

  • T1: tend to be low to intermediate signal, but areas of haemorrhage may be high 3
  • T2: can be variable due to heterogeneity in tumour components; e.g. calcific components > low signal; myxomatous components  > high signal 
  • GE (gradient echo): may show blooming of calcific components
  • T1 C+ (Gd): shows enhancement (important discriminator from a thrombus)

Complete resection in typical cases is usually curative with recurrence rates (either locally or elsewhere in the heart) reported in 1-3% of cases. In atypical cases the rate is much higher (12-22%) 7.

  • cardiac arrhythmia(s)
  • embolic complications, e.g. stroke

On imaging consider

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Article information

rID: 1051
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Atrial myxoma
  • Atrial myxomas
  • Cardiac myxomas

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Cases and figures

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    Figure 1: gross pathology
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    Case 1
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    Case 1: right atrial myxoma
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    Case 2: left atrial myxoma
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    Low attenuation m...
    Case 3: left atrial myxoma
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    Case 4: left atrial myxoma
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    Case 5: left atrial myxoma
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