Lymphatic Malformations

Chapter 191

Lymphatic Malformations


Lymphatic malformation (LM) is the current term used to describe lymphangiomas. Mulliken and Glowacki recommend that the suffix –oma only be used in lesions that exhibit cellular proliferation such as a hemangioma. LMs are congenital lesions that result from a defect in embryogenesis of the lymphatic system. They occur in equal frequency in males and females. They most commonly present in newborn children, with 65% of lesions noted at birth, 80% present at 1 year, and 90% present by 2 years of age. Ten percent of LMs may initially present in adulthood. LMs may be localized or associated with a generalized malformation of the lymphatic system. Advanced generalized disorders may be seen as diffuse lymphangiectasis in utero, which is incompatible with life. Lymphangiectasis has been associated with a number of syndromes, the most common being Turner’s syndrome. Other syndromes include Noonan’s syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, familial pterygium syndrome, distichiasis–lymphedema syndrome, and various chromosomal aneuploidies.


LM is thought to occur from a defect in the normal drainage of the lymphatic channels into the venous system. The result is a progressive enlargement of the isolated lymphatic spaces due to the continued secretion of lymph. There are several proposed explanations of this malformation. The malformation may be due to a portion of the lymphatic network that fails to reestablish a communication with the venous system and is sequestered early in embryogenesis. Early malformations involving the more primitive jugular, subclavian, and axillary sac are felt to result in the formation of the larger cystic hygromas. These lesions occur in soft areolar tissues in areas with wide fascial planes, with the result being sharply demarcated round or oval lesions. Lesions that have smaller cystic spaces and are more diffuse and infiltrative are believed to occur later in embryogenesis. These malformations have time to grow distally along narrower facial planes and insinuate themselves along vessels and nerve trunks. This probably results in the mixed malformations described by Mulliken and Glowacki such as lymphaticovenous and lymphaticocapillary malformations. Thus, LMs that occur in the cheeks, lips, and tongue tend to contain more of an angiomatous component.


Pathologically, LMs have been categorized in the past based on the size of the anomalous lymphatic space. As already noted, lymphatic malformation is the current term used to describe these malformations and that terms such as cavernous lymphangioma and capillary lymphangioma probably refer to the “mixed” lymphatic malformations described by Mulliken and Glowacki. We use the older terminology following here for historical consistency.

Dec 27, 2015 | Posted by in HEAD & NECK IMAGING | Comments Off on Lymphatic Malformations
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