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Cancer. 1997 Oct 15;80(8):1497-506.

Primary cardiac lymphoma in immunocompetent patients: diagnostic and therapeutic management.

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Department of Radiochemotherapy, Ospedale San Raffaele, Milan, Italy.



Primary cardiac lymphoma (PCL) is extremely rare in immunocompetent patients. Different definition criteria have been employed in published series. Prognosis is poor due to diagnostic delay and relevance of the site of disease.


Two cases observed at the study institution are reported, with a review of 48 cases published in the literature from 1980 to 1996. Only patients with lymphoma confined to the heart and/or pericardium and those with a single and asymptomatic extracardiac site were considered for analysis.


Eight patients had minimal extracardiac disease. The most common presentation was unresponsive heart failure. Electrocardiography findings were not specific. PCL usually arose in the right chambers as a mass, with or without pericardial effusion (> 80%). Chest X-rays, transthoracic echocardiography, and computed tomography scans are standard in diagnostic workup, but transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed a sensitivity > 90%. Cytology of pericardial effusion was diagnostic in 67% of cases. Thoracotomy was diagnostic in all cases, whereas less invasive procedures had high false-negative rates. Gross resection has no role. Early anthracycline-containing chemotherapy appears to improve survival, whereas the role of radiotherapy has not yet been defined.


The diagnosis of PCL should be considered in patients with a cardiac mass and/or unexplained refractory pericardial effusion. Adequate diagnostic workup, including TEE and MRI, allows confirmation of the early suspicion of PCL. In the absence of a diagnostic cytology, an open biopsy may be indicated to avoid treatment delay. There is no evidence that PCL should be treated differently from other bulky aggressive lymphomas arising at other anatomic sites.

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