Background and methods: Most hemangiomas are small, harmless birthmarks that appear soon after birth, proliferate for 8 to 18 months, and then slowly regress over the next 5 to 8 years, leaving normal or slightly blemished skin. In rare cases, hemangiomas can endanger vital structures, with a mortality of up to 60 percent. About a third of these life-threatening hemangiomas respond to treatment with corticosteroids, but for the others there is no safe and effective treatment. We evaluated the effects of daily subcutaneous injections of interferon alfa-2a (up to 3 million units per square meter of body-surface area) in 20 neonates and infants with life-threatening or vision-threatening hemangiomas that failed to respond to corticosteroid therapy.
Results: In 18 of the 20 patients the hemangiomas regressed by 50 percent or more after an average of 7.8 months of treatment (range, 2 to 13). One infant died of refractory proliferation of a lesion and consumptive coagulopathy. The condition of three other patients who had large hemangiomas associated with consumptive coagulopathies that were unresponsive to conventional therapies stabilized after seven days of treatment with interferon alfa-2a alone. Transient side effects of treatment with interferon alfa-2a included fever, neutropenia (one patient), and skin necrosis (one patient). No long-term toxicity has been observed after a mean follow-up of 16 months.
Conclusions: Interferon alfa-2a appears to induce the early regression of life-threatening corticosteroid-resistant hemangiomas of infancy.