A hemangioma is an abnormal build-up of blood vessels in the skin or internal organs. The word hemangioma comes from the Greek words "haema" meaning blood, "angeio" meaning vessel and the suffix "oma" meaning tumor.
Most hemangiomas are on the face and neck. About 30 percent of hemangiomas are present at birth. The rest appear in the first several months of life.
Hemangiomas are the most common childhood tumor, occurring in approximately ten percent of Caucasians, and are less prevalent in other races. Females are three to five times more likely to have hemangiomas than males. They are also more common in twin pregnancies. Approximately 80 percent are located on the face and neck with the next most prevalent location being the liver.
Hemangiomas are connected to the circulatory system and filled with blood. Their appearance depends on location. If they are on the surface of the skin they look like a ripe strawberry, if they are just under the skin they present as a bluish swelling.
Sometimes they grow in internal organs such as the liver or larynx. In most cases, hemangiomas will disappear over time. They are formed either during gestation or most commonly they are not present at birth but appear during the first few weeks of life.
Hemangiomas are often misdiagnosed, initially, as a scratch or bruise but the diagnosis becomes obvious with further growth. Typically at the earliest phase in a superficial lesion one will see a bluish red area with obvious blood vessels and surrounding pallor. Sometimes they present as a flat red or pink area.
Small, superficial hemangiomas will disappear on their own. About 50 percent go away by age five and 90 percent are gone by age nine.
Superficial or "strawberry" hemangiomas often are not treated. When they are allowed to disappear on their own, the result is usually normal-appearing skin. In some cases, a laser may be used to remove the small vessels.
Cavernous hemangiomas that involve the eyelid and block vision are generally treated with steroid injections or laser treatments. These quickly reduce the size of the lesions, allowing vision to develop normally.