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Hemangiomas of the Liver

By Steven K. Herrine, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

A hemangioma is a noncancerous liver tumor composed of a mass of abnormal blood vessels.

In the United States, about 1 to 5% of adults have small hemangiomas that cause no symptoms. These tumors are usually detected only when ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), or MRI is done for unrelated reasons (see Imaging Tests of the Liver and Gallbladder). Such tumors do not require treatment.

Hemangiomas that cause symptoms are very rare. Symptoms are more likely if hemangiomas are larger than about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). These tumors may cause abdominal discomfort and bloating and, less often, loss of appetite, nausea, a feeling of being full after eating a small meal, and pain.

In infants, hemangiomas usually disappear on their own. However, occasionally hemangiomas are large and cause problems, such as widespread blood clotting and heart failure. These tumors require treatment, which may include drugs (such as corticosteroids), a procedure to block the hemangioma’s blood supply (called selective hepatic artery embolization), sometimes surgery to remove the tumor, and, rarely, liver transplantation.

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