A haemangioma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumour that affects infants. They grow in the capillaries, which are small blood vessels in the skin. Although they can appear on any region of the body, they are usually found on the head, neck or scalp. After they first appear, haemangiomas typically expand in size for a few months. Eventually, the growth stops, and the tumour begins to shrink and fade. This shrinking is called involution, and it can last for anywhere between 3 to 10 years.
‘Superficial’ haemangiomas are bright red, flat scars. They grow on the surface of the skin (known as the epidermis).
‘Deep’ haemangiomas grow on a deeper level of the skin, known as the dermis. These are lumpy growths, and they are usually blue or purple in colour.
‘Mixed’ haemangiomas have both flat and lumpy parts as they grow on the dermis and the epidermis.
Congenital haemangiomas are present on the skin when a baby is born, because they develop in the mother’s womb.
Infantile haemangiomas appear on the skin a few days or weeks after the baby is born. They are much more common than congenital haemangiomas.
Haemangiomas are not cancerous, and there is usually no cause to worry about your infant’s health. Nevertheless, it is important to have the tumour examined by a dermatologist to ensure that the growth is a haemangioma. Additionally, a haemangioma will need to be removed if it grows in an area that interferes with the child’s breathing or vision, such as in an airway or on an eyelid.
A haemangioma appears when the cells lining the blood vessels begin to multiply abnormally and uncontrollably, resulting in a (non-cancerous) tumour.
Haemangiomas are normally treated using beta-blockers, such as propranolol, which is taken orally. Topical beta-blockers, such as timolol gel, can be used to treat superficial haemangiomas. These medicines work by narrowing the blood cells in the tumour, which starves the haemangioma of oxygen and nutrients, destroying it.
Laser therapy can only be used to treat small, superficial haemangiomas. Laser treatments can also be used to reduce the redness on the skin and to prevent haemangiomas from expanding.
It is not usually necessary to remove a haemangioma via surgery since beta-blockers are an effective and less invasive means of treating them. However, if a haemangioma grows in such a way that obstructs the child’s breathing or feeding, or threatens their health – by growing on the eyelids, nose, mouth, or an internal organ, for example – it may have to be removed surgically.
A haemangioma will look like a flat, red scar, or a blue or purple lump. If you find any unusual growth or scar on your baby, it is always best to have it examined by a dermatologist.
Haemangiomas are non-cancerous and rarely dangerous. However, you should take your child to see a doctor if the haemangioma bleeds, ulcerates, or looks infected. You should also seek medical help if the haemangioma is growing in an area that obstructs your child’s breathing, feeding, hearing or vision, such as the eyelids, mouth, ears or nose.
When a haemangioma bleeds, it bleeds quickly but briefly. You should stop the bleeding by applying gentle pressure to the area for 5 to 15 minutes. You should then take your child to see a doctor.
In most cases, a haemangioma does not have to be removed. This is because the tumour is non-cancerous and does not pose a threat to the child’s health. However, if the haemangioma is upsetting the child, it is worth considering whether to have the tumour treated. If you are unsure about whether to have a haemangioma removed, it is best to arrange an appointment with your doctor to discuss this.
In some cases, beta-blockers can cause low blood pressure, high blood sugar and wheezing. When a haemangioma is removed via surgery, there is a very small risk of infection, as there is with any form of surgery. In these rare cases, the infection can be treated with antibiotics.