The term hemangioma refers to a mass of blood vessels that commonly occur on the subcutaneous tissues. While vascular anomalies occurring on tissues are commonly seen in babies and appear as birthmarks, a spinal hemangioma may affect people lying in the age group of 30 to 50 years. One is diagnosed with spinal or verterbral hemengioma when the proliferation of the blood vessels takes place in a vertebra.
In most cases, these tumors or tumor-like lesions are incidentally found when MRI or other imaging procedures are being conducted. One is diagnosed with an atypical hemangioma in spine, when the signal intensity or the color of the hemangioma looks unusual on an MRI or a CT scan. In this article, we will look into the causes, symptoms and treatment of such vascular anomalies.
Atypical Hemangioma in Spine
Causes and Symptoms
A typical spinal hemangioma has a honeycomb-like appearance on the X-rays and manifests as bright or dark images as a result of increased signal intensity on the MRI scans. When these look different from what they normally look like, one is diagnosed with an atypical hemangioma.
At times, these may even look like cancerous growths. It is therefore, essential that further testing is done so as to rule out the possibility of a malignant cancerous growth on spine. The best way to determine the real nature of the lesion would be to perform a bone scan. The exact cause of both typical as well as atypical spinal hemangioma are still unknown, but it is believed that one may genetically predisposed to this condition.
It is believed that vertebral hemangioma may be attributed to an overproduction of capillaries in the bony segments of the spinal column. Pregnancy is believed to be a risk factor. It is believed that an abnormal growth of endothelial cells during pregnancy may be attributed to increased blood flow and elevated estrogen levels.
Hemangiomas are benign in nature, and there is no risk of the tumor spreading to other parts of the body. These are usually asymptomatic, which means one may not experience any symptoms. Pain or other symptoms may, however, appear if the benign growth enlarges and starts pressing against the surrounding nerves or structures. Back pain is one of the most common symptoms that may be experienced. One may experience numbness and various other symptoms depending on the location of the atypical hemangioma in back or the spinal column.
First of all, it is extremely important to ascertain whether the lesion is benign or malignant is nature. Asymptomatic hemangioma doesn't need any treatment, however, treatment would be required if the growth is quite big and one has experiencing signs of compression fracture, numbness, pain or other problems caused by compression of the nerves. Surgical removal of the benign growth may be recommended. Like any surgery, there is a risk of blood clotting, infection and injury during the surgery.
Vascular embolization and radiotherapy may be suggested for the treatment of symptomatic hemangioma in spine. Vascular embolization involves cutting off the blood flow by tying off the blood vessel that is supplying blood to the growth. This helps in preventing any further enlargement of the hemangioma. Radiotherapy involves the use of high-energy rays at the site of hemangioma. This helps in destroying the cells and causes the tumor to shrink. This helps in alleviating the symptoms caused by compression of nerves by the tumor. At times, percutaneous injection of ethanol may also prove beneficial in the treatment of hemangioma.
On a concluding note, typical as well as atypical spinal hemangioma, would become a cause of concern, only if hemangioma in spine is symptomatic. If an atypical hemangioma is detected during any diagnostic radiological procedure, the wise thing to do would be to rule out the malignancy of the growth on the bony segments of spinal column.