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What is Hemangioblastoma?

Hemangioblastomas are slow-growing tumors that can develop on the retina, spinal cord, or blood vessels of the brain. These benign tumors account for about 3% of all spinal tumors. They are not cancerous but can cause significant neurological problems. A hemangioblastoma does not harm healthy tissue and typically can be treated with surgery or focused radiation.

Causes of Hemangioblastoma

The cause for most cases of hemangioblastomas is unknown. About 25% of patients also have von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, an inherited condition characterized by the abnormal growth of tumor in the brain, spinal cord, retina, and kidneys.

Symptoms of Hemangioblastoma

If the tumor compresses the spinal cord or puts pressure on the brain, it can cause several symptoms, including numbness or weakness in the arms or legs. Patients may also have difficulty with balance and coordination and impaired bladder and bowel functions. Other common symptoms include headaches, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, a hemangioblastoma can cause enough pressure in the brain to cause swelling. Excess fluid in the brain is called cerebral edema, and it can be life threatening.

Diagnosis of Hemangioblastoma

Your doctor may perform a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging scans, including X-rays, MRIs, or a CT scan, to diagnose a hemangioblastoma. A cerebral angiography may also be performed by injecting contrast dye into the bloodstream so that any abnormalities in the blood vessels can be seen on an X-ray. Hemangioblastoma typically becomes symptomatic between ages 30 and 50.

Treatment of Hemangioblastoma

Small hemangioblastoma that don’t cause symptoms may not need any treatment. They may be found incidentally and can be monitored through imaging. Microsurgical resection is a minimally invasive procedure that can remove small tumors. Stereotactic radiosurgery can be used to provide concentrated doses of radiation along with surgery to remove the hemangioblastoma. Using both treatments also decreases the risk of recurrence. Preoperative embolization is sometimes used to cut off the blood supply to the tumor before surgery. Following treatment, you will need to be monitored with regular follow-up exams and MRIs. About one quarter of patients experience a recurrence.

What you can expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

UTHealth Neurosciences brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. You will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.