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Hemangiomas are blood vessels that have grouped together abnormally. They are benign skin tumors and are also known as port wine stains. These birthmarks are present at birth, but not always visible until a few weeks after birth. Skin pigment cells, genetics, and the hormone called estrogen are three main potential causes of hemangiomas.
Melanocytes are the cells responsible for skin pigmentation. Research scientists believe that melanocytes act as blockers against the forming of hemangiomas. As Caucasian and Asian ethnicities have lighter skin tones, there are fewer melanocytes. This reduction in melanocytes may be one of the causes of hemangiomas. Occurrences of melanocytes are rarer in ethnicities with darker skin tones and larger amounts of melanocytes, such as African Americans.
The female hormone called estrogen may also be one of the causes of hemangiomas. Studies have shown that females are more likely to develop hemangiomas than males. There is still a lot of ongoing research regarding this phenomenon, but the idea is that hormone receptors of estrogen have an influence on the formation of hemangiomas. It is believed that these receptors affect vascular function and cause vessels to bunch up.
Another one of the causes of hemangiomas may be genetics. Genetics is an area that plays a huge role in the development of many diseases and conditions. Genes that are passed from one or both parents can lead to a condition or disease occurring in a child. One parent carrying the autosomal dominant trait can pass this vascular condition to a child.
Ongoing research suggests that there is another possible cause of hemangiomas. A pre-endothelial cell may also lead to the development of this type of benign tumor. It is believed that these cells do not form endothelial cells due to a mutation in the cell. The mutation allows the unformed epithelial cells to remain. Instead of dying off, the mutated cells clump together and form the benign tumor.
A hemangioma appears as a red patch, often on the neck or head. It can be various sizes but is typically large enough to cover an entire side of the face, cheek, or neck. In some instances, the hemangioma can stretch from the temple down to the side of the neck and across from the ear to the nose. Hemangiomas will start out growing rapidly for about a year. After this time, they begin to slowly shrink. About half of all hemangiomas in children are completely gone by the time the child reaches the age of five.