How Is a Hemangioblastoma Treated

Hemangioblastomas are rare, noncancerous tumors that typically occur in young to middle-aged adults. These benign (not harmful) growths account for only 1%–2.5% of all brain tumors but may lead to long-lasting complications, such as nerve damage, vision loss, trouble walking, and chronic headaches, if left untreated.

In most cases, your neurologist (a doctor specializing in conditions of the brain and nervous system) will recommend surgery to remove the tumor. This article will discuss what to expect from surgery and other treatment options that may be presented.

Doctor talking to post-op patient

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Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

For hemangioblastomas that are not associated with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL), a condition in which both benign and malignant tumors grow, surgery to remove the tumors usually cures the disease. If the entire tumor is not removed, though, it is more likely that the tumor will regrow or that additional cysts will form.

The two types of surgical procedures performed by neurosurgeons to remove hemangioblastomas are:

  • Standard microsurgical resection: This minimally invasive procedure is performed to remove small tumors.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS): This procedure uses a concentrated dose of radiation along with surgery to eliminate the hemangioblastoma and decrease the risk of recurrence.

Surgical removal of large tumors is sometimes made easier by cutting off the blood supply to the tumors. This procedure is called preoperative embolization. Surgery to remove spinal hemangioblastomas can be especially challenging, so embolization is often used during these cases.

Adjuvant, or preoperative, radiation therapy may also be used to help shrink large tumors prior to higher risk surgery.

Prescriptions

Surgery and radiation remain the standard of care for hemangioblastoma treatment. Currently, prescription medication, such as chemotherapy, is not used to treat hemangioblastomas, even when VHL is diagnosed. More research is needed.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Currently, there are no over-the-counter therapies to treat hemangioblastomas. 

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

No alternative therapies have been shown to improve the outcome of hemangioblastoma treatment. However, certain mind-body interventions such as meditation and journaling may be useful in helping patients navigate the mental and emotional challenges that can arise when undergoing treatment for a hemangioblastoma.

Lifestyle Factors

No one knows why one person gets hemangioblastomas and another person doesn't, but family history is the main risk factor of VHL. The role that the environment plays, if any, in the growth and development of these tumors is still currently under research.

Because VHL is also associated with malignant tumors, those who are diagnosed with this genetic syndrome are encouraged to quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, exercise routinely, and limit alcohol to decrease their cancer risk. 

A Word From Verywell

Due to its rarity, current research assessing the treatment and outcomes of hemangioblastoma is limited. Discoveries of the molecular genetics of hemangioblastoma should eventually lead to molecularly targeted therapies, but currently, surgery and radiation are the only treatment options. Fortunately, in most cases, surgery and radiation can lead to a complete cure.

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  1. Bründl E, Schödel P, Ullrich OW, Brawanski A, Schebesch KM. Surgical resection of sporadic and hereditary hemangioblastoma: Our 10-year experience and a literature review. Surg Neurol Int. 2014;5:138. Published 2014 Sep 22. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.141469