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Liver Hemangioma

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To make an appointment with a hepatologist at the UPMC Center for Liver Care, call 412-647-1170 or fill out our contact form.

What Is Liver Hemangioma?

Hemangiomas are bundles of blood vessels that form benign, or noncancerous, tumors in the liver. Many people who have liver hemangiomas don't know they have them.

Between 1% and 5% of people in the U.S. have a liver, or hepatic, hemangioma that doesn't cause symptoms.

Types of liver hemangioma

In most people, these tumors are small, with a diameter of less than 4 centimeters.

There are two main types of hemangiomas:

  • Cavernous: a mass made of wide or dilated blood vessels. Blood fills the spaces between the vessels. This is the most common type of liver hemangioma.
  • Capillary: a mass made up of many small blood vessels, held together with a layer of tissue.

Liver hemangioma causes

Researchers aren't sure why blood vessels in the liver form hemangiomas.

Doctors diagnose liver hemangiomas most often in adults between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are more likely to develop these tumors than men.

These masses can form at any point in a person's life. Some babies are even born with them.

Infants may have a type of hemangioma known as benign infantile hemangioendothelioma.

Some researchers believe that too much vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) may lead to liver hemangiomas forming.

Your cells make VEGF to tell your body to build blood vessels. Researchers need to do more studies on VEGF and liver hemangiomas to be sure.

Liver hemangioma risk factors and complications

Most liver hemangiomas don't cause symptoms or problems. But sometimes, a hemangioma will grow in size.

Tumors larger than 4 centimeters might cause:

  • Blood clots.
  • Heart failure.
  • Pressure on organs near the liver.

In some cases, a liver hemangioma may rupture and bleed.

Babies born with infantile hemangioendothelioma are at risk for complications such as:

  • Heart failure.
  • Death.

Why choose the Center for Liver Diseases for liver hemangioma care?

Our doctors at the UPMC Center for Liver Care:

Liver Hemangioma Symptoms and Diagnosis

Most people with liver hemangiomas don't have any symptoms.

But if your tumor grows to larger than 4 centimeters, you might have symptoms such as:

  • Bloating.
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount.
  • Nausea.
  • Pain or discomfort in the stomach.

Babies with liver hemangioma may have:

Diagnosing liver hemangioma

Doctors often find liver hemangiomas during imaging tests for other health issues, such as:

  • CT scans
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound

Doctors may also order these tests if they suspect you have liver hemangioma.

There's usually no need for a liver biopsy to test a sample of liver tissue sample.

Liver Hemangioma Treatment

Most liver hemangiomas don't need any treatment. If the mass is larger than 5 centimeters, your doctor may schedule follow-up exams once or twice a year.

Doctors will want to make sure that the tumor is not:

  • In danger of rupture.
  • Placing pressure on other organs.

They may treat liver hemangiomas that are causing symptoms.

Lifestyle treatments

Although most hemangiomas don't require making lifestyle changes, your doctor may suggest the following to improve your liver's overall health:

  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Working out.
  • Limiting alcohol intake.

Medical treatments for liver hemangioma

Your doctor may recommend trans-arterial embolization to prevent blood from getting to the mass.

During this treatment, doctors inject medicine into the hepatic artery to block blood flow. This helps reduce the tumor's size and stop it from getting bigger.

Doctors might tie off your liver's artery, known as hepatic ligation, to prevent blood from reaching the mass.

They may also use drugs like corticosteroids to help reduce swelling.

Surgery to treat liver hemangioma

If your mass is large, surgeons may want to remove it. If they can't separate the hemangioma easily, they may remove part of your liver as well.

Liver transplant for even large hemangiomas (more than 5 centimeters) is rare.

Doctors may consider transplant only if:

  • The mass puts pressure on other organs or causes pain, but surgeons aren't able to separate it from healthy liver tissue.
  • The hemangioma is in danger of rupturing.
  • There are many masses throughout the liver, affecting the organ's function.