Hemangiomas are benign growths that form out of a large collection of rubbery red blood vessels. While hemangiomas can appear all over the body, they can often form in the liver.
The cause of these growths is unknown, but they are a congenial condition, meaning many people develop them before birth. Since female hormones can promote the formation of hemangiomas, women are more commonly seen with them than men.
Most liver hemangiomas are less than an inch in size and never cause any health problems or present symptoms, so a person may never know he or she has one. The growths are often discovered incidentally when a person is getting tested for another condition and needs a CT scan or an ultrasound.
However, hemangiomas that are larger in size could possibly cause symptoms. For instance, the liver can become enlarged and a person may vomit, feel nauseous, and have pain in the upper right abdomen. In very rare cases, the hemangioma can rupture if it large or positioned near other organs. This can cause bleeding in the abdomen that can be fatal.
The causes of liver hemangiomas are still unknown, though it’s believed that, in most cases, the formation of these benign tumors are congenital. An abnormal collection of blood vessels, smaller than 1.5 inches (about 4 centimeters) wide, produces the hemangioma, though they can sometimes be larger masses or develop in multiple locations throughout the liver. It’s rare for a child to develop a larger hemangioma in the liver, though it can happen.
While liver hemangiomas remain relatively small and unnoticed, there are cases where it can grow and cause symptoms for the individual. It’s unknown why this occurs in a small percentage of people. There are some identifying traits that researchers believe can instigate liver hemangiomas and stir complications and the presentation of symptoms. Patients diagnosed with a liver hemangioma between 30 and 50 years of age are most likely to experience symptoms and women are more likely to develop symptoms than men. Additionally, a pregnancy can increase the likelihood of developing an active liver hemangioma, due to the increased estrogen production that occurs during pregnancy. Postmenopausal women may also develop liver hemangiomas, due to the effects hormone replacement therapy has on the liver.
Since hemangiomas aren’t usually dangerous, treatment usually consists of tests that confirm that the growth is in fact a hemangioma and not a malignant tumor. An MRI, CT scan, and scintigraphy can be used to check a hemangioma.
If a hemangioma is quite large or causing symptoms, then surgical removal is often recommended.
As the cause of liver hemangiomas are still unknown, there’s no way to prevent the initial development of the tumors. While it may be unsettling to find out that one has a liver hemangioma, they are not life-threatening and, in most cases, do not lead to the development of cancer. For that reason, most people choose to leave well enough alone and not pursue treatment.
In the event that the condition worsens to the point in which a patient seeks treatment, there are a number of options available. Surgical removal of the tumor is the most common way of getting rid of liver hemangiomas. Procedures can remove affected portions of the liver or can stop blood flow to the mass. Loss of blood flow will likely reduce the mass. In extreme cases, radiation can also be used to kill liver hemangioma cells.