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What is a hemangioma?

Hemangiomas are a kind of tumor formed by extra blood vessels. They are the most common benign tumor of infants. Usually, they occur on the surface of the skin (strawberry hemangiomas). Those that are deeper in the skin are called cavernous hemangiomas. Strawberry hemangiomas are bright red (or purple), soft, raised, squishy birthmarks with sharp borders. They are most common on the head, chest, or upper back. Cavernous hemangiomas often appear bluish, and the borders look less distinct. Most are found on the head or neck.

Most children with hemangiomas have only one. Rarely, children have many, both on the skin and in the internal organs.

Most hemangiomas appear within a week or two after birth. Only 2% are actually visible at birth. It is usually noticed as a small red blemish or bump that may look like a bruise or scratch, but quickly begins to grow. Usually there are two growth cycles: 0 to 4 months for the first cycle, with a pause from 4 to 6 months and then a second growth, from 6 to 12 months. Between 12 months and 18 months of age, some areas may start turning gray. This is a sign that it is getting smaller.

Port wine stains and other birthmarks are not hemangiomas

How does it occur?

No one knows the exact cause. Hemangiomas tend to run in families, and occur more frequently in lighter skinned than darker skinned infants. Hemangiomas are up to 5 times more common in girls than boys, and are also more common in premature infants.

Are they harmful?

All hemangiomas should be checked by a specialist. Infants who have 3 or more small hemangiomas should be checked for internal hemangioma of the liver or digestive tract. Internal hemangiomas can lead to heart failure or other organ problems.

Several problems may require immediate treatment, such as if the hemangioma blocks the eyes, ear canal, or airway, or if it interferes with feeding. Your child may also need treatment if he or she has bleeding, pain, or facial disfigurement.

How are they treated?

About half of all hemangiomas will get smaller by age 5 even without treatment. Those that do not get smaller by the age of 3 to 5 years may take up to 10 years to go away. They can also leave scars that may need plastic surgery. Treatment options include surgery, laser treatments, or steroid therapy.

Developed by McKesson Corporation.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-27
Last reviewed: 2006-08-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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