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Proactive approach used to remove birthmarks

January 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
In about 80-percent of cases, hemangiomas or birthmarks are invisible areas like the face and neck. Many doctors used to advise their patients to leave them alone because they would eventually go away, but that's often not the case. Now, doctors are taking a more proactive approach -- tackling a birthmark before a child is even aware they have one.Ainsley Tate is the light of her mother's life.

"A child's love is just so innocent," said Ainsley's mom, Virginia Tate.

But just after she was born, elation turned to worry. Virginia noticed a small red mark on her daughter's face. A couple months later, it had grown into a large bump.

"Of course, I started thinking like a tumor or something," said Tate.

It was a tumor, a hemangioma or vascular birthmark. It wasn't cancerous, but Virginia was worried it could still affect her daughter's life.

"Whenever we would walk through the stores, little kids would go, 'Mommy, what's wrong with her?'" said Tate.

Most hemangiomas grow for up to a year. All will regress, which is why many doctors say if you leave them alone, they'll go away. But regression can be slow, and for most patients, the tumor doesn't completely disappear.

"So, you ended up with children waiting years with these large, bulky lesions," said plastic surgeon Dr. Marcelo Hochman.

While some doctors hesitate to operate on hemangiomas, Dr. Hochman is taking a more aggressive approach.

"We just remove them," said Dr. Hochman.

After putting her under anesthesia, he surgically removed Ainsley's birthmark. Dr. Hochman also removes hemangiomas using lasers.

Results can be life changing like with little Emma who was found in an orphanage in china and was deemed unadoptable.

"The greatest thing of all this is that she actually was adopted," said Dr. Hochman.

Some doctors believe hemangiomas are caused when cells from the placenta get lodged into the baby and grow. The vascular birthmarks are more common in females, especially those with fair skin. They occur less frequently in African American babies.

Web Extra Information:


Vascular birthmarks, including hemangiomas and other malformations, occur in roughly 10 percent of births, which adds up to about 400,000 babies every year in the United States. Hemangiomas are the most common form of benign tumors affecting infants. They affect five-times more girls than boys and occur more often in individuals with lighter skin. Most hemangiomas (80 percent) are found on the face and neck. Many times, they are not visible at birth but appear after a child turns one month old. It is believed hemangiomas are a result of cells from the placenta that travel to the baby where they stay and grow.

There are different degrees of hemangiomas. Superficial ones affect only the upper layer of the skin. Deep hemangiomas are those that form a lump on the skin. Compound hemangiomas are both superficial and deep. Sometimes, hemangiomas may interfere with vision, breathing, hearing or eating, or can be life-threatening. Hemangiomas also don't always occur on the outside of the body. If an individual has more than six or seven external hemangiomas, doctors perform an exam to look for internal ones.


Often, parents are given the advice, "Leave it alone; it will go away." However, as treatments are continually advancing, this is becoming an unacceptable practice. Hemangiomas grow for up to 12 months and then start to regress; however, that regression can be slow for some patients. Even after regressing, hemangiomas typically still aren't cosmetically acceptable for many patients.


There are several ways hemangiomas can be treated. During its growing phase, patients may be prescribed steroids to help slow down the growth of the hemangioma. They can be removed surgically, but many doctors opt for laser treatments. The pulsed dye laser (PDL) is used to treat superficial components and reduce redness. It is sometimes used in combination with other treatments. Other types of lasers that are used include the Nd:YAG for treating deep hemangiomas such as in the oral cavity and larynx and the C02 or Erbium lasers for treating scar tissue and improving skin texture.