What Is Cardiac Angiosarcoma, the Cancer That Killed Fashion Designer Virgil Abloh?

Virgil Abloh, the fashion designer who bridged streetwear and luxury, died on Sunday from cardiac angiosarcoma at age 41. The announcement on his Instagram page shared that he had been fighting it privately since his diagnosis in 2019, "undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture."

What Is Cardiac Angiosarcoma?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, cardiac angiosarcoma "is a rare type of primary malignant (cancerous) tumor that occurs in the heart." It is a very rare yet aggressive form of cancer, with symptoms similar to those of other cardiac conditions.

What Are Symptoms of Cardiac Angiosarcoma?

Symptoms of cardiac sarcomas depend on the location of the tumor in the heart, which can develop on the outer surface, within one or more chambers, or in the muscle tissue. Cardiac angiosarcomas usually occur in the right atrium of the heart, which blocks the flow of blood in and out of the organ.

Johns Hopkins Medicine states that when the flow of blood is obstructed, it results in "swelling of the feet, legs, ankles and/or abdomen and distension of the neck veins." Tumors can also occur on the pericardium, which is a sac that surrounds the heart, and can lead to an increase in fluid inside the sac, affecting the heart's ability to pump blood. Some signs may include "chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and palpitations."

To complicate matters, tiny pieces of cardiac sarcomas called emboli can break off and move through the bloodstream. These can block blood flow to an organ or body part such as the brain and lungs, causing stroke or trouble breathing. Patients may also have other symptoms including coughing up blood, heart rhythm problems, facial congestion, fever, night sweats, fatigue, and Raynaud's (where you fingers or toes turn blue).

How Is Cardiac Angiosarcoma Diagnosed and Treated?

Depending on the symptoms, doctors use several different tests to diagnose cardiac angiosarcoma, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. They include echocardiograms, chest X-rays, electrocardiograms (ECGs or EKGs), CAT scans, or MRIs. Once cardiac angiosarcoma has progressed enough for symptoms to be present, Johns Hopkins Medicine states, it means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, which makes treatment challenging.

Treatments can include radiation therapy or chemotherapy to relieve symptoms. More invasive procedures are also available, including open-heart surgery, heart transplantation, and autotransplantation, where your own heart is removed, the tumors are then removed, and your heart is transplanted back into you.

We remember the genius designer Abloh who made history in 2018, becoming Louis Vuitton's first and only Black artistic director. He is survived by his wife, Shannon Abloh, and his children, Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh.