What is angiosarcoma?

Literally translated as “fleshy growth of the blood vessels,” angiosarcoma is a very rare type of cancer that starts in the tiny cells that line the inside of your blood vessels. These cells are called vascular endothelial cells. The human body has thousands and thousands of blood vessels, so angiosarcoma can occur in any part of the body. This can make it tough to locate a tumor, and it can also make it easier for angiosarcoma to spread from one part of the body to another.

Early detection is key

In more than half of angiosarcoma cases, the tumor starts on the skin, which is called cutaneous angiosarcoma. That's good news because it means you can see that there's an issue and get it diagnosed and treated quickly. The face and scalp are common places for angiosarcoma lesions to appear. If you have a bruise that hasn't healed, a reddish or veiny-looking area on the skin, or a bump or nodule, don't wait—get it checked by a doctor as soon as possible. Other common places where angiosarcoma can occur are the breasts, the liver and deep tissues of the body. These tumors are often more difficult to detect than a visible spot on the skin, but you may feel a lump or mass under the skin. Sometimes an angiosarcoma tumor can go undetected until it gets large enough to push against other organs and cause other symptoms. If you notice a change in your health, even a small one, don't hesitate to get it checked out by a doctor. It's better to have a doctor confirm that it's nothing to worry about than to ignore symptoms that could signal a larger problem.

Know your risk factors for angiosarcoma

Sometimes angiosarcoma develops de novo (without any specific cause), but there are some factors that can increase the risk of developing a tumor. You may have a slightly higher risk if you have:

  • Undergone radiation treatments for cancer
  • Had a mastectomy, especially if the lymph nodes were removed along with the breast
  • Had lymph nodes removed as part of a cancer treatment surgery
  • Experienced chronically swollen lymph nodes
  • Been exposed to toxic chemicals like arsenic, vinyl chloride or thorium dioxide
  • If you've had surgery or radiation to treat a previous cancer, check the area regularly for any masses or changes to your skin.

Diagnosis, treatment and life after angiosarcoma

Diagnosing angiosarcoma is a multi-step process that can include:

  • Physical exam
  • Imaging studies like an X-ray, MRI or CT scan
  • Biopsy

This process lets your care team confirm the diagnosis, check the size of the tumor and see whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment will likely involve surgery to remove the tumor. You may also need chemotherapy and/or radiation . After treatment, you'll need regular follow-up care from an oncologist (doctor that specializes in cancer) for several years. Since angiosarcoma can spread throughout the body, it's important for your care team to keep close track of your health to watch for signs of recurrence.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.