Angiosarcoma is one of the rarest types of sarcoma of the thorax. The true incidence is unknown because only a hundred or so cases have been reported.1,3–5
Studies have shown a slight female preponderance and the tumour typically occurs in the sixth decade.4
The aetiology of PAS is obscure. It has been suggested to be a neoplastic transformation of primitive mesenchymal cells present in the intima of the pulmonary arteries.1,3
Diagnosis is difficult and often delayed because symptoms are insidious and nonspecific. The common symptoms are dyspnoea, cough and chest pain, with or without right ventricular dysfunction. These symptoms mimic thromboembolic disease and the patients can be easily misdiagnosed. Signs such as weight loss, fever or anaemia could also be present.1,4
Chest x-ray generally shows large masses in the anterior mediastinum and hilar enlargement. Findings on the CT scan are similar in PAS and thromboembolic disease and are characterised by filling defects at different levels in the pulmonary vasculature. Gadolinium magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with enhancement of the lesion is indicative of the tumour. This enhancement gives MRI an advantage in the differential diagnoses because a non-vascularised intraluminal thrombus should not enhance after injection of gadolinium. Information about the enhancement on sarcoid infiltration of the pulmonary artery was not found in the literature; however, 80% of patients with infiltrative lung disease presented positive results on MRI when the disease was active.6
Surgical or percutaneous biopsy confirms the diagnosis of PAS.3
For vascular tumours there is a risk when performing CT guided biopsy, mainly haemorrhagic complications. In this case, although the mediastinal mass showed a relationship with the pulmonary trunk and main pulmonary branches, the tumour was solid and large. In addition, the surgical staff is well trained and defined that the biopsy would not be harmful to the patient. Indeed, the CT guided biopsy was performed and the patient had no complications.
Because clinical findings usually cannot distinguish between PAS and acute or chronic embolic disease, patients are initially treated with anticoagulants or even with thrombolysis. There are no studies evaluating long term anticoagulation to determine if this treatment would improve outcome. In fact, many case reports suggest that the failure of anticoagulation to improve a patient’s condition should raise the suspicion of PAS.2
This patient was referred with such advanced disease that the initial diagnosis was lung cancer, so we did not prescribe anticoagulation. Because these tumours are rare, data from large randomised trials are not available and the best treatment for primary PAS is still unknown. Case reports suggest that surgical resection is the treatment of choice for PAS, and is thought to produce the best survival rates in the earliest stages of disease. However, even after the surgery, the mean survival period is 12 months. Palliative chemotherapy is the usual treatment in advanced disease, with response rates of approximately 50%.4
- Although rare, pulmonary artery sarcoma is a differential diagnosis for pulmonary embolism.
- Pulmonary angiosarcomas are difficult to diagnose and a high suspicion is needed.
- Early diagnosis is associated with better prognosis.