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A vertebral hemangioma is usually no cause for alarm.
A hemangioma is a noncancerous, slow-growing tumor, made of newly formed blood vessels. Around 75 percent of hemangiomas in bones are found in the spine or skull, according to the x-ray text, "Essentials of Skeletal Radiology." The most common places are in the lower thoracic and upper lumbar spine segments of the transitional area between the middle and lower back. Most hemangiomas do not cause symptoms. Hemangiomas are almost never life-threatening and they rarely require medical treatment.
Because most vertebral hemangiomas do not cause symptoms, they are usually discovered on x-rays taken for some other reason, such as trauma or unrelated back pain. Hemangiomas usually occur in the bulky, "body" portion of a vertebra. There's usually only 1 hemangioma, though they occasionally occur in more than 1 vertebra. On an x-ray, the vertebra will appear to have coarse vertical stripes through a portion or all of the weight-bearing body portion. Radiologists refer to it as a "corduroy cloth" appearance. The overall bone density will be lower than in the surrounding vertebrae. A July 2008 review in the journal "RadioGraphics" indicates that clinicians may sometimes order CT or MRI scans, or biopsies, to rule out more serious conditions.
Hemangiomas may be somewhat more prevalent among women. They are most frequently diagnosed in people between the ages of 30 and 50, and are present in between 10 and 15 percent of adults. Probably the most important information for you if you're diagnosed with a hemangioma is the fact that hemangiomas are benign tumors. They do not spread to other parts of the body and are not life-threatening.
When a vertebral hemangioma shows up on an x-ray of someone with back pain, doctors consider it an unlikely cause of the pain. But, about 1 percent of all vertebral hemangiomas do cause pain. In exceptional cases, a hemangioma may be aggressive or fast-growing. In rare cases, this can expand the vertebra, leading to spinal cord compression or fracture of the vertebra. If left untreated, those expanding lesions can cause weakness in the legs, problems with walking or paralysis.
Vertebral hemangiomas that aren't causing symptoms require no treatment. It is not even necessary to monitor this type of hemangioma. Treatments ranging from radiation to surgery have been used to treat hemangiomas that do cause symptoms. Kyphoplasty is presented as a promising option in the July-August 2009 issue of the journal "Pain Physician." In this procedure, small balloons are inflated inside the vertebra. The spaces the expanded balloons created are then filled with a surgical cement. Kyphoplasty is considered less invasive than other surgical approaches for this condition.