Science Questions

Can the heart develop cancer?

Sun, 13th Sep 2009

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Question

Tony, Cambridge asked:

Can the heart develop cancer?

Answer

We put this question to Professor Sian Harding:

Sian -   Itís very rare to get cancer of the heart.  And if you do get it, itís usually cancer of the blood vessels in the heart angiosarcoma rather than the muscle cells of the heart itself.  And in a sense, cancer and heart disease are two ends of the spectrum with cancer being very fast-growing cells whereas; heart disease is because the heart canít regenerate itself very much.  And one of the things that we have to be really careful about in stem cell research for heart disease is not doing things to trigger cancers.  If there were things that we might want to do for the heart like growing more blood vessels or stimulating stem cells, or reducing the amount of natural cell death are all the opposite things to what the cancer people want to do to kill off the cancers.  So we have to be really careful in treading that line.

Ben -   And Kat, is heart cancer something you come across often in your day job (at Cancer Research UK)?

Kat -   Yeah.  Thereís a bit of a myth that the heart is something that doesnít get cancer but it can happen, and as Sian says incredibly rare and it is because the heart doesnít regenerate.  It doesnít turnover its cells whereas tissues like breast, bowel, skin, they tend to make new cells a lot so you just increase your chances of getting cancer in those tissues.  But it can happen though it is phenomenally rare.

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