Spinal hemangiomas are benign (noncancerous) tumors that develop from the blood vessels. These tumors are the most common type of benign spinal tumor and occur in approximately 10 percent of the world’s population. The vast majority are asymptomatic, but in some cases, they can cause pain and neurological issues. If you suspect you may be suffering from a hemangioma, it’s important to seek the correct diagnosis.
About Spinal Hemangioma
A spinal hemangioma is a benign tumor that typically grows in the mid- or lower-back region. These tumors grow on the vertebrae (bones) of the back and are typically found incidentally. If a hemangioma is asymptomatic, treatment is usually unnecessary. However, if these tumors continue to grow and press on nerves in the spine, they should be treated to prevent neurological damage.
Common Symptoms of Hemangioma
When spinal hemangiomas display symptoms, the symptoms tend to be the same as those of other spine conditions. This is why it is incredibly important to get a proper diagnosis. Spinal hemangiomas may cause back pain where they are located. They can also cause pain or discomfort that radiates along a nerve. This is due to the pressure being placed on that nerve or inflammation from the tumor irritating adjacent tissues. This pain can occur along your arms or legs, or in other areas of your body.
There is also the potential for spinal cord compression, which causes pain, weakness in one or more extremities, and numbness or tingling. If the hemangioma begins to bleed, a hemorrhage can occur, also causing compression of the nerves or spinal cord.
Diagnosis of Spinal Hemangioma
Hemangiomas are typically found on imaging studies like CT scans and MRI scans that are often ordered for other reasons. A CT scan is used to check for a bone pattern that is commonly seen with spinal hemangiomas. If the pattern is present, you may be sent for an MRI to explore the extent of the hemangioma and whether it is growing in the spinal column, has moved into the spinal canal or is pressing on the spinal cord. Additionally, some hemangiomas can resemble malignant spinal tumors, so additional tests like a bone scan are sometimes ordered to “rule out” a more serious diagnosis.
Treatment Options for Spinal Hemangioma
In rare cases, hemangiomas need to be treated. In some cases, a procedure called embolization will stop the flow of blood to the tumor, effectively cutting off its “lifeline.” Radiation therapy is also sometimes used. However, if the tumor is large or causing nerve compression, your doctor may recommend surgical removal. Some treatment strategies call for a combined approach that may include embolization, surgery and/or radiation.