Myxoma is an intracardiac tumor; it is found inside the heart. Seventy five percent of all myxomas are found in the left atrium, and almost all other myxomas are found in the right atrium. It is very rare for a myxoma to be found in either of the ventricles. The tumor takes one of two general shapes: a round, firm mass, or an irregular shaped, soft, gelatinous mass. They are attached to the endocardium, the inside lining of the heart. The cells that make up the tumor are spindle-shaped cells and are embedded in a matrix rich in mucopolysaccharides (a group of carbohydrates). Myxomas may contain calcium, which shows up on x rays. The tumor gets its blood supply from capillaries that bring blood from the heart to the tumor. Thrombi (blood clots) may be attached to the outside of the myxoma.
There are three major syndromes linked to myxomas: embolic events, obstruction of blood flow, and constitutional syndromes. Embolic events happen when fragments of the tumor, or the thrombi attached to the outside of the tumor, are released and enter the blood stream. Gelatinous myxomas are more likely to embolize than the more firm form of this tumor.
Myxomas may also obstruct blood flow in the heart, usually at a heart valve. The mitral valve is the heart valve most commonly affected. Blood flow restrictions can lead to pulmonary congestion and heart valve disease. Embolization can lead to severe consequences. In cases of left atrial myxoma, 40-50% of patients experience embolization. Emboli usually end up in the brain, kidneys, and extremities.
The third syndrome linked to myxomas are called constitutional syndromes, nonspecific symptoms caused by the myxoma.
Causes and symptoms
There is no known causative agent for myxoma. The main symptoms, if any, produced by myxoma are generic and not specific. These include fever, weight loss, anemia, elevated white blood cell (WBC) count, decreased platelet count and Raynaud's phenomenon. Most patients with myxoma are between 30-60 years of age.
Diagnosis is made following a suspicion that a myxoma might be present, and can usually be confirmed by echocardiogram.
Successful removal of the tumor rids the patient of this disease. Emboli from a myxoma may survive in other areas of the body. However, there is no evidence that myxoma is truly metastatic (able to transfer disease from one area to another), causing tumors in other areas of the body.
Alexander, R. W., R. C. Schlant, and V. Fuster, eds. The Heart. 9th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Berkow, Robert, ed. Merck Manual of Medical Information. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1997.
"Myxoma, Intracardiac." OMIM Home Page, Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Omim>.
John T. Lohr, PhD
Embolus—A piece of tissue, blood clot, etc. that travels through the blood system and can lodge in smaller blood vessels anywhere in the body.
Metastasis—The spread of a cancer or infectious agent from the site of origin to other areas of the body.
Raynaud's phenomenon—Intermittant ischemia (deficient blood flow) of the fingers or toes, sometimes also affecting the ears and nose.