Vascular Malformations

What is a vascular malformation?

Vascular malformations are benign (non-cancerous) lesions that are present at birth, but may not become visible for weeks or months after birth. Unlike hemangiomas, vascular malformations do not have a growth cycle and then regress but instead continue to grow slowly throughout life. 

Most vascular malformations are sporadic (occurring by chance), though some are inherited in a family as an autosomal dominant trait. Autosomal dominant means that one gene is necessary to express the condition, and the gene is passed from parent to child with a 50/50 risk for each pregnancy. Males and females are equally affected and there is great variability in expression of the gene. In other words, a parent may unknowingly have had a hemangioma because it faded, but your child is more severely affected. The family may not come to the attention of a geneticist until the birth of the child with a more severe condition.

What are some of the types of vascular malformations?

There are several types of vascular malformations:

  • Capillary (port wine stains): Always present at birth as pink or purple skin patches.
  • Venous malformation: Often confused with a hemangioma, these malformations are soft to the touch and the color disappears when compressed. They are most commonly found on the jaw, cheek, tongue and lips
  • Lymphatic malformations: These form when excess fluid accumulates within the lymphatic vessels.
  • Arteriovenous malformations: Abnormal connections between arteries and veins, resulting in a high flow, pulsating collections of blood vessels.
  • Mixed: A combination of any of the other four types.

How we care for vascular malformations

The Vascular Anomalies Center at Boston Children's Hospital offers the latest diagnostic and treatment approaches, some of which were pioneered by our staff. Our team provides comprehensive consultation services to physicians and families worldwide, including referrals to local medical centers and physicians when appropriate.

The Vascular Anomalies Center (VAC) at Children's is composed of a unique interdisciplinary team of 26 physicians, representing 18 departments, who have developed sub-sub specialization in the field of vascular anomalies. Many of these physicians are internationally renowned for their expertise and innovative contributions to this highly specialized field.