von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL) is a rare, genetic multi-system disorder characterized by the abnormal growth of tumors in certain parts of the body. The tumors of the central nervous system (CNS) are benign and are comprised of a nest of blood vessels and are called hemangioblastomas. Hemangioblastomas may develop in the brain, the retina of the eyes, and other areas of the nervous system. Other types of tumors develop in the adrenal glands, the kidneys, or the pancreas. Symptoms of VHL vary among patients and depend on the size and location of the tumors. Symptoms may include headaches, problems with balance and walking, dizziness, weakness of the limbs, vision problems, and high blood pressure. Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and/or tumors (benign or cancerous) may develop around the hemangioblastomas and cause the symptoms listed above. Individuals with VHL are also at a higher risk than normal for certain types of cancer, especially kidney cancer.
Treatment for VHL varies according to the location and size of the tumor and its associated cyst. In general, the objective of treatment is to treat the growths when they are causing symptoms but while they are still small so that they do not cause permanent problems by putting pressure on the brain or spine, blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the nervous system, or impairing vision. Treatment of most cases of VHL usually involves surgery to remove the tumors before they become harmful. Certain tumors can be treated with focused high-dose irradiation. Individuals with VHL need careful monitoring by a physician and/or medical team familiar with the disorder.
The prognosis for patients with VHL depends on the location and complications of the tumors. Untreated, VHL may result in blindness and/or permanent brain damage. With early detection and treatment the prognosis is significantly improved. Death is usually caused by complications of brain tumors or kidney cancer.
The NINDS pursues a vigorous program of research aimed at preventing and treating disorders that cause tumors in the brain and spinal cord such as VHL.
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Last Modified October 26, 2010