What are the Different Treatments for Hemangioma in an Infant?

L. Whitaker

Treatment options for hemangioma in an infant, sometimes called infantile hemangioma, can vary depending on the location and type of the tumor. Common treatments include corticosteroid medications and laser surgery or other surgical removal. Experimental treatments are sometimes also available. Depending on the case, doctors might recommend time-limited observation of the tumor before treatment or no active treatment.

Risks of steroid treatment include high blood sugar.
Risks of steroid treatment include high blood sugar.

Hemangioma in an infant refers to a tumorous birthmark, typically benign, evidenced by a reddish or purplish skin patch that could be flat or raised. This condition is slightly more common in premature infants. Hemangiomas are caused by a dense gathering of extra blood vessels, though experts are not certain why these tumors develop. They can be present at birth, but about 70 percent of cases develop within the first few weeks of the baby's life. A hemangioma is five times more likely to develop in female infants than in males.

Premature infants are more susceptible to experiencing hemangioma.
Premature infants are more susceptible to experiencing hemangioma.

A hemangioma is first seen as a flat red mark on the face, neck, or scalp, or occasionally elsewhere on the body. It will grow, sometimes rapidly, into a spongy protrusion before entering a resting phase of no additional growth. The period of growth can last for 6-18 months before the rest period begins. Eventually, most hemangiomas gradually disappear, though the skin in the affected area can retain permanent discoloration.

Superficial hemangioma is a flat mark that involves only the upper areas of the skin, while compound hemangioma can begin deep inside the skin organ and have a lumpy appearance. An internal hemangioma, which can be serious, involves organs in the abdomen. The presence of an internal hemangioma could be indicated by the appearance of multiple external hemangioma growths.

A hemangioma in an infant is likely to recede on its own with the passage of time. In about half of cases, the tumor is fully resolved by age 5; about 90 percent of cases resolve by the time the child reaches his or her tenth birthday. Doctors often recommend observation of the growth for several months before treatment. In some cases, the recommendation could be to let the tumor follow its natural course rather than aggressively treat it.

Treatment of hemangioma in an infant is considered to be controversial, and experts urge parents to discuss the benefits and risks of treatment with their child's doctor. Unless the hemangioma's location causes severe interference with normal functions, the primary dangers of the condition are psychosocial issues caused by the disfigurement of the child's appearance. Laser surgery can result in infection, pain, bleeding, or alteration of skin color. Risks of steroid treatment can include high blood sugar, deficient growth, and cataracts. Experimental treatments, such as the use of interferon alpha, beta blockers, or immune suppressants applied topically, have unknown risks and are still being studied.

The location of a hemangioma in an infant can affect the severity of its effects. Rarely, the specific placement of a hemangioma might lead to interference in the child's breathing, hearing, vision, or elimination. The majority of cases feature a hemangioma on the face, neck, or scalp.

Surgical removal is one treatment option for hemangioma.
Surgical removal is one treatment option for hemangioma.

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