Background and purpose: To determine the prevalence of vertebral hemangiomas (VHs), establish a new classification of VHs based on their MRI-signal pattern, and study their natural history.
Methods: MRI of 1000 consecutive patients who underwent at least two MRI with an interval of at least 3 years. Growth rate and change of MRI-signal pattern during the follow-up period were the parameters included in studying the natural history of VHs.
Results: The prevalence of VHs was 41%. VHs were classified as type I-IV with fat-rich VHs (type I), constituted 79% of all VHs. VHs were more common among females 43% versus males 39%, p = .22. The most affected vertebra was L1. Occurrence rates for cervical (1%), thoracic (7%), and lumbar spine (10%) differed significantly (p < .001). The prevalence of VHs increased with age regardless of gender or spinal part involved (p < .001). Only 26% of VHs changed their size and 4% changed their signal during the average follow-up of 7 years. All VHs were slowly growing lesions (average expected growth of <3 mm/10 years). No significant difference between growth rate of VHs type I (0.25 mm/year) and other types of VHs. None of the VHs that were initially reported as "metastases cannot be rule out" showed alarming change in signal or size.
Conclusions: VH can be classified into four types based on their MRI-signal pattern. Regardless of their type, VHs are slowly growing lesions. The presence of typical morphological pattern should enable radiologists to confidently differentiate them from vertebral metastases.
Keywords: MRI; Vertebral hemangiomas; natural history.