A liver hemangioma (he-man-jee-O-muh) is a noncancerous (benign) mass in the liver made up of a tangle of blood vessels. Also known as hepatic hemangiomas or cavernous hemangiomas, these liver masses are common and are estimated to occur in up to 20% of the population.
Most cases of liver hemangiomas are discovered during an imaging study done for some other condition. People who have a liver hemangioma rarely experience signs and symptoms and typically don't need treatment.
It may be unsettling to know you have a mass in your liver, even if it's a benign mass. However, there's no evidence that an untreated liver hemangioma can lead to liver cancer.
In most cases, a liver hemangioma doesn't cause any signs or symptoms.
When a liver hemangioma causes signs and symptoms, they may include:
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
- Feeling full after eating only a small amount of food (early satiety)
However, these symptoms are nonspecific and in most instances are due to something else even if you have a liver hemangioma, as these tend to be asymptomatic.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.
It's not clear what causes a liver hemangioma to form. Doctors believe liver hemangiomas are present at birth (congenital).
A liver hemangioma usually occurs as a single abnormal collection of blood vessels that is less than about 1.5 inches (about 4 centimeters) wide. Occasionally liver hemangiomas can be larger or occur in multiples. Large hemangiomas can occur in young children, but this is rare.
In most people, a liver hemangioma will never grow and never cause any signs and symptoms. But in a small number of people, a liver hemangioma will grow to cause symptoms and require treatment. It's not clear why this happens.
Factors that can increase the risk that a liver hemangioma will be diagnosed include:
- Your age. A liver hemangioma can be diagnosed at any age, but it's most commonly diagnosed in people ages 30 to 50.
- Your sex. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with a liver hemangioma than are men.
- Pregnancy. Women who have been pregnant are more likely to be diagnosed with a liver hemangioma than women who have never been pregnant. It's believed the hormone estrogen, which rises during pregnancy, may play a role in liver hemangioma growth.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Women who use hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms may be more likely to be diagnosed with a liver hemangioma than women who do not.
Women who have been diagnosed with liver hemangiomas face a risk of complications if they become pregnant. The female hormone estrogen, which increases during pregnancy, is believed to cause some liver hemangiomas to grow larger.
Very rarely, a growing hemangioma can cause signs and symptoms that may require treatment, including pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, abdominal bloating or nausea. Having a liver hemangioma doesn't mean you can't become pregnant. However, discussing the possible complications with your doctor can help you make a more informed choice.
Medications that affect hormone levels in your body, such as birth control pills, could cause an increase in size and complications if you've been diagnosed with a liver hemangioma. But this is controversial. If you're considering this type of medication, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.