Non-cancerous tumors of the blood vessels are called hemangiomas. When they occur in the backbone, they are called vertebral hemangiomas.
When a type of cells in the blood vessels called the endothelial cells grow abnormally, they form a type of tumor called hemangioma. Hemangiomas are non-cancerous (benign). Most of the time, they don’t even cause any symptoms. Often, a hemangioma is discovered accidentally during a CT Scan carried out for some other purpose.
A hemangioma in the backbone is called a vertebral hemangioma. It is usually found in the mid or lower back (i.e. lumber or thoracic) regions. Vertebral hemangiomas are more common in women.
Complication due to Vertebral Hemangioma
When a vertebral hemangioma occurs together with hemangiomas elsewhere in the body, they can create problem by bleeding.
If it is present in pregnant women, the tumor enlarge during the 7th to 9th month and may complicate pregnancy. Even though they usually resolve after delivery, if they are not surgically removed, they most probably recur during the subsequent pregnancies.
Symptoms of Vertebral Hemangioma
Hemangiomas usually do not produce any symptoms. They are often identified during a CT or an MRI scan conducted for some other purpose.
In a rare occasion where a patient with a vertebral hemangioma produces symptoms, they include:
- Back pain, radiating to the legs
- Weakness or numbness of muscles
Diagnosis of Vertebral Hemangioma
Here are the standard tools used for detecting and diagnosing a vertebral hemangioma:
As the vertebral hemangioma erodes the bone, a honeycomb like appearnace is seen in the X-Ray
- CT Imaging
As the tumor invates the backbone, various changes happen inside. In a CT image, this looks like a polka dot (white dots on black background).
Treatment of Vertebral Hemangioma
There is no medical treatment for hemangiomas. But if the tumor causes pain, a doctor may prescribe medication to temporarily relive the pain.
Embolization, followed by Radical Excision: In embolization, the blood vessels feeding the tumor are sealed by injecting a glue, plastic material or a metallic coil into them. This stops the blood flow to the tumor and ultimately the tumor dies. After the tumor death, the remnant can be removed surgically.
Since this is a benign tumor, it is treated only when it gives some trouble (like back pain, etc.). Otherwise, the risk of surgery far outweighs the benefits of having the tumor removed.