First stent graft used to help treat heart cancer

Heart cancer is not a very well known cancer – but it does happen.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic see this rare disease quite often, and a recent case required them to come up with a novel treatment plan for it.

Jovetta Means, 64, was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma – an extremely rare type of cancer in her heart.  The mother of seven was rushed to a hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind., after suffering from shortness of breath and abdominal pain.

“My husband was upstairs and I…crawled up the stairs,” Means said.  “I said, ‘Something's wrong, something's not right,’ and I collapsed."

After undergoing various tests, Means was told she had a tumor in her aorta and clots throughout her body.  She said her doctors didn’t give her a treatment plan, simply telling her family she only had days to live.

Determined not to give up, Means’ family took her to the Cleveland Clinic.  But because of the size of her tumor and its location on her aorta next to her esophagus, Means was not a surgical candidate.  So her oncologist, Dr. John Greskovich, suggested radiation therapy to shrink the tumor instead.

After 25 rounds of radiation, Means’ tumor did get smaller, but the wall of her aorta began to break down.  That’s when her doctors came up with the idea of giving her a stent graft to protect her aorta – the first time a stent has ever been used to help treat heart cancer.

“What it does is it sort of realigns that diseased portion of the aorta – like a sleeve on the inside – and supports it,” said Dr. Eric Roselli, a heart surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.

A year after her diagnosis, Means’ tumor shrank again after her second round of radiation treatment.