A: We know it may be upsetting for your otherwise perfect baby to have an oddly placed birthmark -- and even harder if it seems to be getting bigger every day, as hemangiomas often do. To make things worse, the majority of hemangiomas -- raised pink or red birthmarks -- appear in places where they are very obvious. Hemangiomas are fairly common (between 4 and 10 percent of Caucasian babies develop them, with girls affected three times as often as boys) and are caused by extra clusters of blood vessels beneath the skin.
Although most hemangiomas go away on their own, this tends to be only after about a year of continued growth, and sometimes they can take as long as five to 10 years to disappear completely (which can be hard on a child once she starts school). What's more, when a large hemangioma is allowed to fade over time, it can leave behind a patch of loose, stretchy skin that looks like a deflated balloon. So more and more, physicians are recommending treatment to address large hemangiomas sooner rather than later. There are a variety of treatments available, such as steroids that are taken orally, applied to the skin, or injected into the birthmark to slow its growth, medicines like interferon which also slow growth, and a series of laser treatments to help remove the mark. If steroids, drugs, and lasers don't work or the hemangioma begins to interfere with a child's eyesight or breathing, surgery is usually done. Scarring from the procedure tends to be minimal and much easier for most children to live with than the hemangioma itself.
The timing of treatment is very important to prevent the hemangioma from growing larger, so getting a good diagnosis early can be crucial. But unfortunately not all physicians (or even all dermatologists) are experienced in dealing with hemangiomas or are up to speed on the latest treatments. That's why it's a good idea to set up a consultation with at least one doctor with expertise in this area. The Web site novanews.org, run by the National Organization of Vascular Anomalies, can help you find a specialist in your area.
Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.