UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Cardiology

Title: pericarditis and cancer

Keywords: pericarditis, cancer, pericardial effusion, metastastic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/22/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 12/6/2023)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Patients with cancer that present with pleuritic chest pain often have pulmonary emboli, but don't forget about pericarditis. Lung and breast cancer, especially, are known to metastasize to the pericardium and produce pericarditis or pericardial effusions. Anticoagulation for presumed PE in patients with pericardial mets. can produce hemorrhagic tamponade, a disastrous iatrogenic complication, so think twice before starting empiric anticoagulation on patients...make sure your patient doesn't have pericarditis or an pericardial effusion.

The ECG in patients with cancer-related pericarditis or pericardial effusion does not always demonstrate the classic ST elevation wtih PR depression (which is most commonly seen in viral pericarditis). Patients with pericardial effusions often demonstrate low voltage and tachycardia. Electrical alternans, though "classic," only appears in 1/3 of patients with pericardial effusions.