To investigate the characteristics and pathological features of primary cardiac tumors and to evaluate the diagnostic sensitivity of echocardiography in primary cardiac tumors, all pathologic and echocardiographic records at the Chinese PLA general hospital and its satellite hospitals between January 1st, 1990 and January 1st, 2000 were reviewed to identify patients with a confirmed diagnosis of primary cardiac tumors. A total of 149 patients who had complete echocardiographic records and who were diagnosed with primary cardiac tumors were included in the study. Pathologic and echocardiographic records were reviewed retrospectively to evaluate the presence, location and histologic type of the tumors. The majority (n=118, 79.2%) of cases had been diagnosed with benign tumors. Myxoma was the most common histologic type accounting for 50.0% of total cardiac tumors. Lipoma was the second most common type of benign tumor. Among cases with malignant tumors (n=31, 20.8%), unclassified sarcoma (n=7), angiosarcoma (n=6) and rhabdomyosarcoma (n=6) were the common histologic types of primary malignant tumor. Non-myxomatous benign tumors were more likely to have occurred in the ventricle than myxomas (17/43, 39.5% vs. 7/75, 9.3%; P=0.00). The proportion of pericardium involvement in the malignant tumors (8/31, 25.8%) was significantly higher than that in the myxomas (0/75, 0%; P=0.00) and non-myxomas (2/43, 4.7%; P=0.01). The diagnostic sensitivity of transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography was 93.3% (139/149) and 96.8% (30/31), respectively. The study, using a relatively large sample, confirms that myxoma was the most common primary cardiac tumor. The locations of tumor involvement varied by types of tumor. Echocardiography may be a useful tool for early diagnosis of primary cardiac tumors.