NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A man says he’s lucky to be alive after undergoing a rare, life-saving operation to remove a tumor from his heart.

Doctors say it might be the largest cardiac tumor ever recorded, and it was found by accident.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, if you’ve never heard of a heart tumor, it’s because they are extremely rare. They can originate in the heart or they can spread there from a tumor elsewhere in the body.

While they are usually benign, they can still be deadly if they impede heart function.

Jake Cohen is grateful he’s feeling healthy again. For years, he had burning chest pains. But since he was so young, doctors dismissed his concerns.

“They told me it was probably nothing, and I would accept it. I would go home, I would take some antacid medicine or something like that,” he said. “But I really kind of felt something was off.”

His symptoms got worse. He took a stress test and his blood pressure dropped so drastically he was rushed to an emergency room.

That’s where an MRI revealed the 32-year-old had a tumor in his heart the size of a tennis ball.

“Jake’s tumor is the largest one I have ever seen,” said Dr. Yoshifumi Naka, a surgeon at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center.

He said the tumor, which could have been growing since Cohen was born, was starting to compromise his heart function.

“The tumor is inside the tumor capsule and then expanding, expanding, expanding,” he said.

Physician assistant Thomas Cosola said tumors in the heart are very rare.

“In the 17 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen two,” he said.

Cohen’s tumor was benign.

“I feel extremely lucky,” he said.

For the first time in his life, he says he can exercise without feeling sick.

“Now, three, four days a week in the gym and trying to get in good shape, and really just trying to live a really healthy life,” he said.

Doctors have given him a clean bill of health and are optimistic his tumor will not grow back.

These kinds of tumors in the heart are so rare that a study reviewing 12,000 autopsies only found seven cases.

However, tumors that spread to the heart from elsewhere in the body are more common. And because those are almost always cancer, their prognosis is usually much worse.

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