What is a Liver Mass?

A liver mass is a benign collection of immature blood vessels within the liver. Also known as a liver hemangioma, a liver mass is a condition that usually causes no symptoms and may be discovered during the administration of testing or procedures for an unrelated condition. There is no indication that the presence of an untreated liver hemangioma may cause the development of liver cancer. Treatment for masses which cause complications is dependent on several factors that include the location of the mass and the overall health of the individual.
With no known, definitive cause for the formation of a liver hemangioma, it has been asserted that the condition is congenital, meaning it is present at the time of birth. A small percentage of those with a liver hemangioma may experience a progression of their condition. As a liver hemangioma progresses, it may increase in size or multiply, leading to the formation of additional masses, resulting in the development of complications and, ultimately, requiring treatment.

Individuals with a liver mass are generally asymptomatic, meaning they exhibit no symptoms. When a liver mass causes symptom manifestation, an individual may experience a variety of signs. Abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting may be indicative of the presence of a liver mass. Additionally, those with a liver hemangioma may experience the feeling of being full after consuming small amounts of food. For others with a liver hemangioma, their appetite may be absent altogether.

There are several imaging tests used to confirm the presence of a liver hemangioma. Individuals may undergo testing that includes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a computerized tomography (CT) scan, and an ultrasound of the abdominal area. Additional testing procedures may be dependent on the individual and the seriousness of his or her condition.

In most cases, individuals with a liver hemangioma who are not experiencing any symptoms or complications may not require treatment. For those whose condition is more serious, treatment is dependent on the location and size of the hemangioma, the number of masses, and the overall health of the individual. Treatment may include surgery, transplantation, or radiation therapy.

Surgical procedures used to treat a liver mass may include the removal of the hemangioma or a portion of the liver along with the hemangioma. For some individuals, a hepatic artery ligation or arterial embolization may be an appropriate treatment option. A hepatic artery ligation involves closing off the hepatic artery to block blood flow to the hemangioma. An arterial embolization utilizes the injection of medication into the hepatic artery to restrict blood flow to the mass. Restricting the hemangioma’s blood supply removes the nutrients necessary to promote growth, thus shrinking the mass.

Though rare, individuals with an unusually large liver mass may need to undergo a liver transplant to prevent further complication. Candidates for liver transplantation are those for whom traditional treatment options are not viable. During the transplantation process, the diseased liver is removed and replaced with one from a donor. Liver transplantation surgery carries considerable risks and these should be discussed with a health care provider prior to pursuing this treatment option.

Radiation therapy may be utilized in some cases to target and eradicate the cells of the hemangioma. The radiation therapy process involves the administration of highly concentrated energy, such as X-ray, to the affected area. Individuals who undergo radiation therapy may experience a variety of side effects that may include fatigue, and redness or irritation at the administration site.

Even though there is no known cause for the formation of a liver hemangioma, there are some factors believed to contribute to its development. Individuals between the ages of 30 and 50 may have a greater chance for being diagnosed with a liver hemangioma, since those within this age group are most frequently diagnosed with the condition. It has been asserted that high estrogen levels may contribute to the development of a liver hemangioma, therefore, women who have had hormone replacement therapy or who have been pregnant are at an increased risk for being diagnosed with a liver mass.