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. Large cavernous hemangiomas or mixed hemangiomas may be treated with oral steroids and injections of steroids directly into the hemangioma.
Recently, lasers have been used to reduce the size of the hemangiomas. Lasers that emit yellow light damage the vessels in the hemangioma without damaging the skin over it. Some physicians use a combination of steroid injection and laser therapy.
Hemangiomas are diagnosed by a physical examination. In the case of deep or mixed lesions, a CT or MRI scan may be performed. Occasionally, a hemangioma may occur with other rare conditions. Additional tests may be done for these syndromes.
There is no known way to prevent hemangiomas. All birthmarks, including hemangiomas, should be evaluated by the health care provider during a routine examination.
Hemangiomas of the eyelid may interfere with the development of normal vision and must be treated in the first few months of life. Hemangiomas that interfere with breathing, feeding, or other vital functions should also be treated early.
MC Ortega is the former publicist for the late Walter Payton and Coca-Cola. Ortega is a senior communications and messaging executive specializing in media relations, social media, program development and crisis communications. Also, Ortega is an avid traveler and international shopper. Ortega resides with her partner, Craig, dog, Fionne and extensive shoe collection. Ortega also enjoys jewelry design/production and flamenco dancing.