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Sclerotherapy: Using Minimally Invasive Technology to Treat Disease

Parents are understandably nervous when they learn their child has been diagnosed with a swelling or growth. Fortunately, many times the growth is not a cancerous life threatening tumor, but is instead a benign collection of abnormal blood vessels or fluid that is swelling and causing pain and disfigurement.  Fortunately a treatment exists for many of these problems called, Sclerotherapy.

What is sclerotherapy?

Sclerotherapy is a minimally invasive procedure, over 300 years old, used to treat abnormal blood vessels, fluid collections called cysts, and some benign tumors. This treatment entails using imaging such as ultrasound or x-ray to guide a small needle or tube through the skin into an abnormality and inject a medicine to shrink it and relieve its symptoms.

What abnormalities can be treated with sclerotherapy?

Sclerotherapy is an amazingly versatile technique that can be applied to many different diseases. Originally developed to treat varicose veins, sclerotherapy is now used to treat many different types of abnormal blood vessels. Commonly these abnormalities are collections of malformed veins, lymphatics, or arteries that are present at birth or become apparent later in life when they swell or cause pain.

This technique is especially valuable in treating lesions that cannot be easily removed surgically such as malformations around the eyes.

Sclerotherapy has been expanded much beyond abnormal blood vessels to include developmental or acquired fluid collections called cysts that can occur in nearly any part of the body. Many of these cysts can be removed surgically but for some sclerotherapy can offer a less invasive option. Examples of these cysts are:

  • Dermoid cysts of the skin or skull
  • Cysts in the neck such as branchial cysts or thyroglossal duct cysts
  • Cysts of abdominal organs such as the liver, kidney, or spleen
  • Cysts called seromas or lymphoceles occurring at sites of trauma

Most recently, sclerotherapy has been successfully used to treat cysts of bone called aneurysmal bone cysts and unicameral bone cysts. Often, the technique can be used as a substitute for surgical resection, especially when the surgical removal of the cyst is difficult or dangerous.

Sclerotherapy can also be used to treat normal tissues such as the salivary glands around the mouth. The salivary glands can be treated with sclerotherapy to decrease saliva production in patients suffering from excessive drooling or salivary leaks called Ranulas.

In selected cases, sclerotherapy can be used treat benign but painful tumors such as neurofibromas. In the same way that blood vessels and cysts can be injected with medicines, some tumors can be injected to induce shrinkage and minimize their symptoms.

Who does sclerotherapy?

Interventional Radiologists have been performing image guided sclerotherapy for many years and have developed many refined techniques and new applications for this procedure.

How do I get more information about this technique to see if it would help my child?

For more information about Nationwide Children’s Radiology Services, click here or call our Interventional Radiology Coordinators at 614-722-2375

James Murakami, MD
James W. Murakami, MD, MS, is a pediatric radiologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Radiology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Murakami received his medical degree from the University of California at San Diego and completed his internship and radiology residency at the University of Washington in Seattle. That residency included a research fellowship and two years of graduate work in Bioengineering leading to a M.S. degree. Dr. Murakami continued his training with a fellowship in pediatric radiology at the the Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center. Lastly, a four month fellowship in pediatric interventional radiology was completed at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital. After two years as a staff radiologist specializing in Neuroradiology and Interventional Radiology at the Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center (1997-1999), Dr. Murakami and his family relocated to Columbus Ohio and he had been on staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital up to the present. He is primarily a clinician with interventional radiology interests focusing on sclerotherapy of vascular malformations and benign cysts of the head and neck, orbits, and bones, and neuroradiology interests focusing on functional MRI. His educational and research interests include ultrasound guided procedures in children, sclerotherapy, and functional MRI.

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