Boise mom hails new treatment for benign tumors in infants

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by Justin Corr

KREM.com

Posted on July 28, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Updated Sunday, Jul 28 at 5:21 PM

BOISE -- A new type of treatment for kids with benign tumors is being hailed by many doctors and parents as a simpler and much less-invasive way to remove the growths.

Boise's Ella McClain is a fun-loving 3-year-old. When she was born, she had a big red mark on her forehead.

"It was probably 2-3 months after she was born that I noticed, to me it looked like it was growing," said Jennifer McClain, Ella's mom.

It was growing and it wasn't just a birthmark.

"I took her in for a checkup, and that's when they told me it was a hemangioma," said Jennifer.

Hemangiomas are tumors that can occur anywhere in or on the body, but are benign. About 10 percent of newborns develop them.

"One interesting thing is that two-thirds are in girls. They're associated with prematurity and advanced maternal age," said Dr. Jonathan Perkins of Seattle Children's Hospital.

Perkins says no one knows exactly what causes hemangiomas, but he is researching treatments. Until now, doctors would treat the tumors with steroids, chemotherapy and surgery, which is what Jennifer thought she'd have to do. "I did not want her, at all, to have surgery, especially on the head. And a skin graft, that's a long painful procedure."

But recently, a breakthrough was made, somewhat by accident. Doctors in France were treating a heart patient with a common beta blocker when the child's hemangioma suddenly began to fade away. When Jennifer heard about the new treatment, she cancelled the surgery, and looked for a doctor who could do the new treatment, which included a couple doses of medicine per day. "I knew if I couldn't get it done here in Boise, I would go wherever I needed to go to get it done."

Jennifer found Dr. Jill Beck in Boise, who administered the medicine to Ella for about a year, and the tumor almost completely disappeared.

"I did not want her to enter Kindergarten with, for all intents and purposes, a target on her head," said Jennifer. "So, we did that, and we didn't have to have surgery, and no one even sees it anymore."

Some of these growths are too small to be of concern, and many go away on their own. But some hemangioma can interfere with a child's sight, breathing, or even heart function. Doctors say those could be life-threatening, so if you're concerned, see your child's pediatrician.

Also, the drug doesn't work for everyone. Dr. Perkins is researching exactly why that is.

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