A Canadian doctor has made it his mission to raise awareness about heart tumours, a rare and deadly type of cancer that often goes undetected.

Hundreds of doctors from across the globe recently gathered in Toronto to learn more about the condition, which is frequently misdiagnosed.

Dr. Robert James Cusimano, a cardiovascular surgeon with the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network, organized the world’s first-ever Cardiac Tumour Conference, which was held on Jan. 21.

“If you have a tumour in your heart, people who see it who don’t know much about it may say, ‘That’s it, there’s nothing else to do,’” Dr. Cusimano told CTV News.

He hopes the conference will boost the rare disease’s profile and speed up the diagnosis.

“Like all cancer treatments, earlier detection may equate to better longterm survival,” Dr. Cusimano said.

People with heart cancer typically complain of fatigue and trouble breathing, which is why it is often misdiagnosed.

And even when properly discovered, removing a heart tumour can be an invasive process that few medical experts are familiar with.

Patients who undergo treatment for heart cancer often face surgery. Joao Couto had 25 per cent of his heart muscle removed after doctors discovered a large tumour on the vital organ.

“Some people, I told them I took out a quarter of my heart. And they’re like, ‘Is that possible?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, it is,’” Couto said.

Tumours that grow on the heart are so uncommon that when Couto complained of fatigue and problems breathing, his doctors first thought he had pneumonia.

And recovery from the surgery can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Brian Voykin had 25 per cent of his heart removed five years ago. Today, he’s an avid runner who regularly goes on five-kilometre jogs.

“I always tell people, I’m kind of permanently at 90 per cent. I’m completely healed,” Voykin said.

Couto is still healing from his heart surgery but says he feels optimistic about his future.

“I feel good, I’m happy. I just wish it doesn’t come back,” he said.

With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip