Overview

Angiosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the lining of the blood vessels and lymph vessels. Your lymph vessels, which are part of your immune system, collect bacteria, viruses and waste products from your body and dispose of them.

Angiosarcoma can occur anywhere in your body, but it most often occurs in the skin on your head and neck. Rarely, angiosarcoma may form in the skin on other parts of your body, such as the breast. Or it may form in deeper tissue, such as the liver and the heart. Angiosarcoma can occur in areas previously treated with radiation therapy.

Angiosarcoma treatment depends on where the cancer is located. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Symptoms

Angiosarcoma signs and symptoms may vary based on where the cancer occurs.

Angiosarcoma that affects the skin

Most often, angiosarcoma occurs in the skin on the head and neck, particularly the scalp. Signs and symptoms of this form of angiosarcoma include:

  • A raised, purplish area of skin that looks like a bruise
  • A bruise-like lesion that grows larger over time
  • A lesion that may bleed when scratched or bumped
  • Swelling in the surrounding skin

Angiosarcoma that affects organs

When angiosarcoma affects organs, such as the liver or the heart, it often causes pain. Other symptoms depend on the location of the angiosarcoma.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

Causes

It's not clear what causes most angiosarcomas, though doctors have identified factors that may increase your risk of the disease.

Doctors know that something happens that causes a cell in the lining of a blood vessel or lymph vessel to develop an error (mutation) in its genetic code. The mutation tells the cell to grow quickly, making more abnormal cells. The abnormal cells continue living when other cells would die.

The result is a buildup of abnormal cells that grows from the affected blood vessel or lymph vessel. With time, cells may break off and spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of angiosarcoma include:

  • Radiation therapy. Treatment with radiation for cancer or other conditions may increase your risk of angiosarcoma. A rare complication of radiation therapy, angiosarcoma typically occurs five to 10 years after treatment.
  • Swelling caused by lymph vessel damage (lymphedema). Lymphedema is swelling caused by a backup of lymph fluid that occurs when the lymphatic system is blocked or damaged. Lymphedema is a risk whenever lymph nodes are removed during surgery — a technique that's often used to treat cancer. Lymphedema can also occur in response to infection or other conditions.
  • Chemicals. Liver angiosarcoma has been linked to exposure to several chemicals, including vinyl chloride and arsenic.

March 03, 2018
References
  1. Young RJ, et al. Angiosarcoma. The Lancet Oncology. 2010;11:983.
  2. Bolognia JL, et al, eds. Vascular neoplasms and neoplastic-like proliferations. In: Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2012. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017.
  3. Soft tissue sarcoma. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Jan. 12, 2017.
  4. Patel SH, et al. Angiosarcoma of the scalp and face: The Mayo Clinic experience. JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery. 2015;141:335.