A hemangioma is a cluster or bundle of small veins that have become bunched together and dilated. Most often, people refer to the hemangiomas that are present on newborns and young children, especially on the neck and face. They can occur elsewhere in the body, such as in the liver or even the spine, but they tend to be relatively harmless because they usually resolve without treatment.
Any hemangioma is considered a tumor. They are benign, and the name tumor reflects the abnormal growth of certain types of cells. In most cases, what occurs is that endothelial cells (cells that line blood vessels) grow abnormally. This type of tumor is also called self-involuting, because the abnormal growth stops at some point, and the tumor begins to recede. It can still leave a residual red mark, sometimes as large as 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm), after the tumor involutes.
In infants, this tumor present on the skin may start out as a flat mark, which is bluish or pink in appearance. This can then lead to growth of what looks like a raised or fatty red tumor. These growths on an infant’s skin can spread very rapidly, but they usually don’t get larger than 2-3 inches in diameter. They are not painful, but sometimes they are prone to bleeding or breaking open. A very fast growing hemangioma may occasionally cause an open sore, which should be evaluated by a physician. Growth of the tumor may end by the time a child is five, and the skin is flat again — although still discolored— in most kids by the time they are nine years old.
Most growths do not require removal or treatment, since they will recede on their own. However, if they are large, they can be seen as disfiguring to the otherwise pretty face of a child. Some parents opt to have them removed, and in some cases, physicians recommend removal because a hemangioma keeps bleeding or because it is obscuring vision if it is growing near one of the eyes.
The treatment options available for removing a hemangioma or for slowing its growth include using cortisone injections, though this treatment carries some risks like potentially slowing the growth of the child. Laser surgery can be used to remove a growth that keeps opening and bleeding, and may help with growths that are creating open sores.
Sometimes a hemangioma will grow in the deeper layers of the skin and it tends to appear as a bluish mark on part of the skin. Others grow both below and above the skin’s surface. The Mayo Clinic recommends carefully considering whether to opt for surgical removal, since it comes with it’s own set of risks, and may still leave residual scarring. Furthermore, in many cases, it is not medically necessary to remove these growths because they will eventually heal themselves.