What Is a Liver Hemangioma?
A liver hemangioma is a tangle of blood vessels in or on the surface of the liver. Liver hemangiomas usually are not bothersome and do not cause symptoms.
Because signs of a liver hemangioma may go undetected, they are usually only discovered if you are being tested for an unrelated condition. The Mayo Clinic states that most liver hemangiomas do not require treatment (Mayo Clinic).
Liver hemangiomas are noncancerous and will not cause cancer to develop. These growths are usually about 4 cm in size. In some cases, they can grow much larger. Pregnant women or those using estrogen replacement, for example, run a higher risk of the hemangioma growing larger. This is because estrogen is believed to fuel the growth of liver hemangiomas. These larger hemangiomas can cause symptoms.
Typically, you will only have one liver hemangioma. However, there are cases in which several have been found on one liver at once,
Causes and Risk Factors for Liver Hemangiomas
Experts are unsure why blood vessels group together and form a liver hemangioma. However, they do agree that liver hemangiomas are most likely congenital, meaning they are passed down through families.
Most liver hemangiomas are diagnosed in patients between the ages of 30 and 50.
Women are more likely than men to develop liver hemangiomas. Women who are on hormone therapy to increase their estrogen levels are at an increased risk of developing liver hemangiomas.
What Are the Symptoms of a Liver Hemangioma?
In most cases, liver hemangiomas do not cause symptoms. However, if they have been aggravated by an injury or fueled by a change in estrogen levels, symptoms can occur.
Symptoms of liver hemangiomas include:
- pain in the upper-right side of the abdomen
- feeling full after eating a small amount of food
- lack of appetite
Liver hemangiomas may cause weight loss due to a loss of appetite. If you experience the symptoms of a liver hemangioma, you should contact your doctor right away.
How Is a Liver Hemangioma Diagnosed?
In those who do not display symptoms, liver hemangiomas are often overlooked until accidentally found during testing for other problems.
Liver hemangiomas are usually found using an imaging test—such as an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, or a single photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) scan. These imaging tests allow your doctor to see intricate details of your liver and its surrounding structures. If your doctor is looking for other liver issues, he or she may find a hemangioma.
What Are the Treatment Options for a Liver Hemangioma?
Most liver hemangiomas do not require treatment. However, if the hemangioma is large or causes symptoms, it can be removed surgically. If the hemangioma causes significant pain or damage to an area of the liver, then your doctor may decide to remove the entire damaged section.
A hemangioma can grow if there is a significant amount of blood flowing to it. In this case, the doctor may tie off the main artery supplying hemangioma with blood. The surrounding areas of the liver will still receive blood from other arteries and remain healthy. This surgical procedure is called hepatic artery ligation.
Alternatively, a medication can be injected into the liver hemangioma to block the blood supply. This is called arterial embolization.
In extremely rare cases, a liver transplant surgery may be necessary. This only occurs in cases of extremely large liver hemangiomas, or multiple liver hemangiomas that do not respond to other treatments.
In extremely rare cases, radiation treatments may be required to shrink the mass.
Will a Liver Hemangioma Cause Complications?
Liver hemangiomas rarely cause any complications. Complications that can arise in rare cases are:
- enlarged hemangioma
- liver damage
If you are pregnant, using hormone therapy, or have liver disease, talk to your doctor in order to reduce your risk of developing these complications.
Most cases of liver hemangiomas cause no health risks in the future. In very rare cases, a liver transplant may be necessary. People who have a liver transplant may need to take medication for the rest of their lives to keep their body from rejecting the transplanted liver. Your doctor will monitor the hemangioma to prevent these risks.