Von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL) is a rare, genetic multi-system disorder in which non-cancerous tumors grow in certain parts of the body. Slow-growing hemgioblastomas — benign tumors with many blood vessels — may develop in the brain, spinal cord, the retinas of the eyes, and near the inner ear. Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) may develop around the hemangioblastomas. Other types of tumors develop in the adrenal glands, the kidneys, or the pancreas.
Symptoms of VHL vary among individuals 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, deafness in one ear, and high blood pressure. Individuals with VHL are also at a higher risk than normal for certain types of cancer, especially kidney cancer.
The prognosis for individuals with VHL depends on then number, 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.
Treatment for VHL varies according to the location and size of the tumor. In general, the objective of treatment is to treat the tumors before they grow to a size large enough to cause permanent problems by putting pressure on the brain or spinal cord. this pressure can block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the nervous system, impair vision, or create deafness. 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.