Pericardial cancer is cancer that develops in the pericardium, the membrane that surrounds the heart, or cancer that has spread from another location (most commonly the lungs)to the pericardial sac. The first signs of this cancer are often shortness of breath and fatigue. Malignant pleural mesothelioma may occur in the pericardium, as well, either as a primary-origin cancer or a cancer that has spread from the chest cavity.
UT Southwestern Medical Center’s skilled chest (thoracic) cancer experts are experienced in treating pericardial cancers. Our team at Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center – the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas – offers an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to treatment.
If your doctor suspects that you have pericardial cancer, he or she will conduct a physical examination and order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Further tests may be needed to help determine the cancer’s stage and precise location.
Cardiac imaging techniques used to diagnose pericardial cancer might include:
- Chest X-ray
- X-rays help visualize abnormalities in the pericardium
- Contrast enhanced or multidetector computed tomography (CT) scan
- CT technology helps physicians visualize the location and extent of pericardial cancer.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- MRI helps physicians identify suspicious areas that could indicate pericardial cancer and learn if, and how far, it has spread.
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
- Cancer cells absorb large amounts of radioactive sugar that are used in this technique, and a special camera creates images of that radioactivity, enabling physicians to identify cancerous cells in the pericardium.
- Endoscopic ultrasonography
- This technology maps sound waves to show physicians if pericardial cancer has invaded the heart muscle itself.
Additional testing also may include a tissue sample (biopsy) of the pericardial tissue to determine the presence of cancer.
The risk of harming the health and function of the heart makes pericardial cancer particularly challenging to treat. Treatment options depend on the cancer’s precise location and stage, the patient’s overall health, goals, and preferences, and other factors.
UT Southwestern’s thoracic cancer specialists may consider these therapies for treating pericardial cancer:
- Medical treatment (chemotherapy)
- Chemotherapy drugs, which are taken orally or intravenously, may be used to target and kill cancer cells in the pericardium. Chemotherapy also may be used in conjunction with radiation therapy (chemoradiation) to treat pericardial cancer.
- Radiation therapy
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells in the pericardium. UT Southwestern is a recognized leader in the development and use of cancer-fighting radiation therapies. Learn more about radiation therapy for chest cancers.
- Highly precise surgery to remove cancerous tissue may be used in some early-stage cases of pericardial cancer. Learn more about surgery for chest cancers.
Simmons Cancer Center offers an array of support services to people undergoing treatment at UT Southwestern for pericardial cancer – and even for those who have been treated in the past. These services range from survivorship seminars to nutrition counseling to support groups.
UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center conducts clinical trials aimed at improving the care and outcomes of patients with pericardial cancer. Your cancer physicians can help you determine if you are eligible to participate in a clinical trial.
Meet Our Experts
UT Southwestern’s pericardial cancer experts use a variety of advanced techniques and technologies to diagnose and care for patients with pericardial cancer. Our multidisciplinary team includes these medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists:
See all of our chest cancer experts.
Request an Appointment
To schedule an appointment with a pericardial cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.