Mind & Body

Here's Why You Never Hear About Heart Cancer

You've heard of brain cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer ... the list goes on. If it exists in the human body, it can get cancer. Why, then, do you never hear about someone getting heart cancer?

Related Video: Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Total Loophole of the Heart

Heart cancer is rare, but not impossible. It happens so infrequently that the American Cancer Society doesn't even list it as its own cancer in their annual statistics — it's under the umbrella of "soft tissue" cancers, which had 13,040 new cases in 2018. Compare that to breast cancer, which reached nearly 300,000 cases. The Mayo Clinic reports seeing only one case of heart cancer per year.

What Happens in Heart Cells Stays in Heart Cells

The reason lies in the way cancer operates. Cancer starts with a mutation in a cell's DNA. Most of those mutations happen when a cell is dividing: Every division requires making a copy of the DNA, and those copies aren't always perfect. It requires further copies still to pass that mutation to daughter cells, so even more cell division has to take place. That's why cancer happens so often in organs that need to replace their cells frequently, like the skin and colon.

But your heart's cells almost completely stop dividing after they've formed in the womb, except to replace damaged or injured cells. That means that even if there is a mutation, it'll have a hard time spreading.

There are other things that can cause mutations that lead to cancer, too. UV radiation can cause skin cancer, carcinogens in your food can cause colon cancer, and even estrogen in the breasts can trigger a malignant tumor. The heart, however, isn't exposed to many carcinogens, so there's little worry of harmful DNA mutations.

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Have you ever wondered why we associate our biggest cardiac organ with love, or who performed the first open-heart surgery? Find out in "Heart: A History" by cardiologist and bestselling author Sandeep Jauhar. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer November 11, 2016

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