Disfiguring Tumors In Infants Vanish

It's not magic, it's medicine that's making tumors disappear in babies.  Now, an old drug is being used in a new way to make these tumors go away.

Ten percent of newborns will develop hemangioma, a benign tumor, like Myla Hershey. Neither her parents nor her doctors noticed anything at first.

"When she was born we couldn't see it at all," Jennifer Hershey, Myla's mom, told Ivanhoe.

However, at three months, "it was like a big slab of meat on her forehead and it was actually weighing her eyebrow down," Jennifer said.

Until now, doctors would treat the tumors with steroids, chemotherapy, and surgery, but doctors in France were treating a heart patient with a common beta blocker. The side effect was that it also caused the child's hemangioma to fade away.

"It affects these infantile hemangiomas by killing the hemangioma cells and restricting the blood vessels that feed them," Alex Golden, MD, Pediatric Cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Golden is now using it to treat babies in the United States.

"The day we start the medication, the hemangiomas stop growing," Dr. Golden said.
Myla took three liquid doses of the beta blocker a day and within just a few days, her mom started to see the tumor disappear.

"It started to fade first, get lighter, and to shrink," Jennifer said.

Now, after a year on the medicine Myla has just a little reminder left and doctors say it will not come back.

Right now, doctors are only using the beta blockers on infants; 100-percent of the tumors in the last 75 patients stopped growing or got smaller.  Doctors don't yet know if the treatment will have the same effect on older children and adults.

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BACKGROUND: A birth mark that looks like a nodule of extra blood vessels in the skin or a bright red patch is called a hemangioma.  It grows during a baby's first year of life and recedes over time.  It starts out as a flat red mark; it can be present anywhere on the body, but is most often found on the face, scalp, or back of the neck.  During the child's first year, the red mark will become a spongy mass that protrudes from the skin.  It will grow rapidly at first to two to three inches in diameter.  Then, it will stop growing and enters a rest phase.  Eventually, it will begin to slowly disappear.  A child usually only has one mark, but some children have more than one, especially if they are a twin.   It is usually benign and is not associated with other medical conditions.  For most cases, the hemangioma doesn't require treatment.  When a child who had it reaches the age of ten, there is usually little visible trace of the birthmark.  (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)

TREATMENT:  Most hemangiomas never need any form of treatment.  However, treatment can be controversial.  Some parents feel that treatment is necessary because the marks can be disfiguring and may cause psychological or social problems.  Doctors may be hesitant to treat a hemangioma that is not causing physical problems because they usually fade gradually without treatment, and because it could have potential side effects.  If the growth interferes with a child's vision or causes other problems, treatment options may include laser surgery or corticosteroid medications.  Lasers can stop its growth.  However, the risks can include infection, bleeding, scarring, pain, and changes in skin color.   Corticosteroids can be given by mouth, injected, or applied to the skin.  They are used to stop the growth of the hemangioma and sometimes reverse it.  The risks can include high blood sugar, high blood pressure, poor growth, and clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye.  Some experimental treatments include interferon alfa, beta blockers, and topical immune suppressants. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  French researchers at Bordeaux Children's Hospital in France were the first to discover that propranolol (a blood pressure medication from a class of medication called beta blockers) can be used to treat hemangiomas.  They were using the blood pressure medication to treat heart conditions in two infants who also had a hemangioma.  They said they noticed that the size and color of the hemangioma was reduced within a day in both babies.  "After informed consent was obtained from the parents, propranolol was given to nine additional patients who had severe or disfiguring infant hemangiomas. In all cases, 24 hours after the onset of treatment, we observed a change in color from intense red to purple, associated with a palpable softening of the lesion," Dr. Christine Leaute-Labreze, from the department of Pediatric Dermatology at Bordeaux Children's Hospital in France, was quoted as saying.  (Source: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/articles/2008/06/11/beta-blocker-may-shrink-infant-hemangiomas)

Dr. Alex Golden, Pediatric Cardiologist and Staff Member of the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, is now using this method to treat babies in the United States.  He has seen 100 percent success rates.  There have not been any side effects to the patients who are on the medication.  The medication is a liquid and is taken two to three times a day.  Results are typically seen in a couple of days, but Dr. Golden says as soon as they start medication, the hemangiomas stop growing. In one to two weeks the tumor begins to shrink.  After 12 weeks, it is completely shrunk.  (Source: www.clevelandclinic.org)


Alex Golden, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist and Staff Member
Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital
(216) 445-7116

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