Is a Hemangioma of the Skin?
A hemangioma of the skin is an abnormal buildup of blood vessels
on or under the surface of the skin. A hemangioma of the skin may look like a
red wine- or strawberry-colored birthmark and may protrude from the skin.
Hemangiomas of the skin appear most frequently on the face, neck, and behind
Growths in the outermost layers of skin are capillary hemangiomas. Those deeper in
the skin are cavernous hemangiomas.
Capillary hemangiomas are often left untreated, but cavernous growths should receive
treatment if they interfere with eyesight or breathing.
Hemangiomas of the skin generally develop during infancy. They
can affect both boys and girls.
Hemangiomas look painful, but rarely cause any discomfort. After
a brief period of rapid growth, they often shrink and go away on their own
without treatment. Hemangiomas of the skin are non-cancerous and complications
are very rare.
Causes a Hemangioma of the Skin?
Experts don’t know why these benign tumors form. However,
according to the Children’s
Hospital of Wisconsin, they are more common in:
- infants with low birth weight
- premature infants
- Caucasian infants
In some cases, hemangiomas run in families. They can also appear
spontaneously, so there may be a genetic component to the condition. There’s no
way to prevent hemangiomas of the skin because their exact cause is unknown.
Are the Symptoms of a Hemangioma of the Skin?
Hemangiomas of the skin are generally deep red or purple. They appear
as raised lesions or tumors on the skin. The deeper the hemangioma, the darker
it appears in color. Growths on the skin’s surface (strawberry or capillary
hemangiomas) are usually deep red. Growths under the skin’s surface (cavernous
hemangiomas) appear as blue or purple spongy masses filled with blood.
Hemangiomas are usually small, but can grow to be quite large.
Hemangiomas of the skin normally begin as small scratches or red patches on the
skin that form during the first two or three weeks of life. Hemangiomas in
infants tend to grow rapidly for the following four to six months.
After this period of growth, hemangiomas enter a resting phase.
They should remain the same size for several months or years and then begin to
Is a Hemangioma of the Skin Diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose a hemangioma of the skin just by looking at
it. No other testing is usually necessary. Your doctor may order blood tests or
a skin biopsy (removing a small piece of skin for testing) if a growth appears
to be abnormal or other sores are present.
An MRI or CT scan is a way to examine a cavernous hemangioma. These
scans allow doctors to visualize structures beneath the skin to see how deep
the hemangiomas have grown.
Doctors may also use a Doppler ultrasound to see how blood flows through a
hemangioma. This allows them to distinguish between a hemangioma and other,
similar lesions, such as those caused by rubella, measles, or acrodermatitis. A
Doppler ultrasound may also help doctors determine if the hemangioma is growing,
resting, or shrinking.
Is the Treatment for a Hemangioma of the Skin?
Capillary hemangiomas aren’t usually treated. As the child gets
older, the growth tends to shrink and will usually disappear on its own.
If a cavernous hemangioma is in an area that could interfere with
sight or breathing (around the eyes, nose, or throat), treatment may be
necessary. Treatment might also be necessary if the hemangioma is very large or
ulcerates (breaks open and bleeds), causing discomfort.
Treatments can shrink or remove the growth. Laser surgery can remove a large
hemangioma of the skin that’s uncomfortable or is causing problems. Laser
treatments can also reduce remaining discoloration after a hemangioma has
If the hemangioma is growing quickly, corticosteroids such as
prednisone can slow or stop the growth. They may be given orally, applied
topically, or injected into the hemangioma. The potential side effects of these
medications are serious and may include poor growth, high blood sugar and blood
pressure, and cataracts.
A medication called vincristine,
which treats other types of tumors, also sometimes treats hemangiomas that
interfere with sight or cause breathing problems. It usually comes in the form
of a monthly injection.
Are the Complications Associated with a Hemangioma of the Skin?
Complications from hemangiomas are extremely rare. However, they
can occur if a hemangioma grows very quickly or is in a dangerous location.
Potential complications include:
- ulceration (bleeding)
- vision changes (if the hemangioma is on the eye)
- difficulty breathing (if the hemangioma is large
and on the throat or nose)
- secondary infection
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Most hemangiomas will go away by themselves in time. If you
decide that your child needs treatment, discuss options with your child’s
doctor. Treatment depends on careful evaluation and observation by a doctor.