Prepared by Glenn Anthony Blackwood, MD and Stephen Schabel,
MD of the Department of Radiology, Medical University of South
Carolina, Charleston, SC.
An 80-year-old man presented with a 3-week history of cough
productive of blood-tinged sputum. Four years previously, a chest
radiograph obtained preoperatively for a transuretheral prostate
resection showed a left hilar mass. The mass was presumed to be a
bronchogenic carcinoma based in part on its radiographic
characteristics and the patient's 50-pack per year smoking history.
However, he was not a candidate for surgery or chemotherapy due to
severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with an FEV
of 1.17 on pulmonary function testing. The 4-year follow-up chest
radiographs disclosed progression in the size of the mass (figure
1). Since he was now symptomatic and might benefit from radiation
therapy, a CT scan was performed (figures 2 and 3).
Contiguous extension of bronchogenic carcinoma into the left
atrium through the pulmonary veins
The enhanced CT revealed a heterogeneous 6 * 6.3 cm (AP *
transverse) soft tissue mass in the left lung parenchyma invading
the left hilum (figure 2). There was a 1.2 * 1.4 cm pedunculated
polypoid filling defect in the left atrium. There was no breach of
the pericardium, confirming extension of the tumor through the left
Metastatic tumors of the heart and pericardium are approximately
20 to 40 times more common than primary cardiac tumors.
There are three routes through which a bronchopulmonary primary or
secondary neoplasm can invade the heart: 1) metastses to the
pericardium or myocardium, 2) direct infiltration of the
mediastinal pleura and pericardium, and 3) growth through the
superior or inferior vena cava into the right atrium or through the
pulmonary veins into the left atrium.
Tumor thrombus from renal cell carcinoma not infrequently
extends into the right atrium through the inferior vena cava.
Direct tumor extension into the left atrium through the pulmonary
veins is rare.
There are reported cases of renal cell carcinoma, esophageal
adenocarcinoma, osteosarcoma, and chondrosarcoma spreading to the
heart through the pulmonary veins.
Primary lung tumors comprise a majority of cases cited in the
Patients may present with signs and symptoms suggestive of a
left atrial myxoma, such as a heart murmur or syncope from
obstruction of the mitral orifice.
Complications include systemic embolization resulting in stroke or
Historically, tumor thrombus extending into the left atrium was
found at autopsy. Enhanced CT, transesophageal echocardiography,
and MR imaging now allow noninvasive characterization and
preoperative surgical planning.
1. Koo BC
Woldenberg LS, Kim K:
Pulmonary vein tumor thrombosis and left atrial extension in lung
carcinoma. J Comp Assist Tomogr 8:331-336, 1984.
2. Dore R, Alerci M, D'Andrea F:
Intracardiac extension of lung cancer via pulmonary veins: CT
diagnosis. J Comp Assist Tomogr 12:565-568, 1988.
3. Patane J, Flum D, McGinn JT, Tyras DH:
Surgical approach for renal cell carcinoma metastatic to the left
atrium. Ann Thoracic Surg 62:891-892, 1996.
4. Schreiber MH:
(moderator) Image interpretation session: 1992. Radiographics
5. Senbo J, Sasaki T, Hasegawa Y, et al:
Resection of metastatic pulmonary lesion of osteosarcoma extended
into the left atrium and ventricle via the pulmonary vein. Kyoba
Geka-Jpn J Thor Surg 44(11):292-932, 1991.
6. Boland TW, Winga ER, Kalfayan B:
Chrondrosarcoma: A case report with left atrial involvement and
systemic embolization. J Thor Cardiovasc Surg 74(2): 268-272,
7. Miranda AL, Rufilanchas JJ, Juffe A, et al:
Direct extension of bronchogenic carcinoma through the pulmonary
veins. Chest 68:123-124, 1975.
8. Gandhi AK, Pearson AC, Orsinelli DA:
Tumor invasion of the pulmonary veins: A unique source of systemic
embolism detected by transesophageal echocardiography. J Amer Soc
of Echocardiography 8(1):97-99, 1995.
9. Kodoma K, Doi O, Tatsuta M:
Unusual extension of lung cancer into the left atrium via the
pulmonary vein. Int Surg 75(1);22-26, 1990.