Lymphangioma is a non-malignant fluid-filled mass often occurring on the head and neck. However, it can affect any part of the body except the brain. These non-cancerous cysts are formed in the lymphatic vessels, which are part of the lymphatic system.
Lymphangioma occurs when the fluid that usually flows through the lymphatic system accumulates in the tissues, manifesting as overgrowth on certain body parts.
When formed at birth (congenital), these lymphatic malformations can appear as soft, spongy, non-tender masses. The acuteness and symptoms may vary depending on the location and size of the cysts. Lymphangioma can cause harm and be fatal, depending on its size and location in the adjoining organs and structures.
How Common Is Lymphangioma?
Lymphangioma is a rare disease and accounts for only 4% of all vascular tumors and 25% of all non-cancerous ones. It is found in about 1 in 4,000 births.
Regardless of its commonality, it is a well-documented condition, and much is known by the medical community about this ailment.
There can be various types of lymphatic malformations (lymphangiomas).
- Macrocystic: More than 2 cm in diameter, this fluid-filled mass is large.
- Microcystic: This group of small, fluid-filled sacs is less than 2 cm in diameter.
- Mixed: Lymphangioma with a combination of large and small lymphatic malformations.
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Symptoms Of Lymphangioma
The symptoms of Lymphangioma are unique to every individual. You can have a fluid-filled cyst formed in a particular area or multiple throughout the body. Lymphangioma may materialize as tiny reddish or blue dots; however, as the lymph fluid accumulates in the tissue, the cysts can become more significant in size and swell. Serious health issues can present themselves when the swelling starts affecting the nearby tissues and organs.
- Cystic hygroma (Cystic Lymphangioma): A red swollen mass filled with fluid, mostly found on or around the neck, groin, or armpit.
- Cavernous Lymphangioma: Usually painless, it is a bulging fluid-filled mass found under the skin, on the neck, and on the lips. The color may vary. It can be white, pink, red, blue, purple, or black.
- Lymphangioma Circumscriptum: This lymph fluid lymphangioma can present as a cluster of blisters on the skin. It is generally asymptomatic, but patients may feel random bloody breakouts and clear liquid oozing from the ruptured vesicles.
Causes And Risk Factors
The exact cause of lymphangiomas is not known yet. However, lymphangiomas are primarily congenital, which means they are present from birth. They form during fetal development due to abnormalities in the lymphatic system.
Lymphangioma affects the genes but is not an inherited condition that parents pass on to their children. Sometimes, Lymphangiomas may form as a part of other ongoing conditions, such as:
- Noonan syndrome
- Turner syndrome
- Down syndrome
A prenatal ultrasound can detect a lymphangitic cyst before your child’s birth, depending on its size. However, after the birth, medical professionals will examine the cyst physically. It could appear as a soft, tender liquid filled with mass—magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scans may help identify and learn more about the size and growth of the cyst and what caused it. A child may not have a cyst at birth but could form one between birth and two years. Cysts tend to become more visible with age.
Is Lymphangioma Curable?
No cure has been found for lymphangioma. This benign mass rarely goes away on its own. However, there are certain treatments available. If a cyst impairs any part of the body due to its size and location, it can pose a severe threat to the well-being and health of an individual.
Treatments For Lymphangioma
Treatment options include:
- Surgery: Removing the cyst through surgery can be complex if the lymphatic malformation has affected the nerves and muscles.
- Sclerotherapy: This method uses an injection filled with a solution to shrink or collapse the mass and swelling.
- Radiofrequency ablation: It destroys the abnormal tissue and growth through high-frequency currents utilizing a needle.
- Dermabrasion: This is a skin resurfacing technique used to treat facial scars.
- Percutaneous drainage: This procedure drains fluid by incision into the lymphatic malformation.
- Drug treatment with sirolimus: The sirolimus drug is known to have shrinking effects on lymphatic malformations. Clinical trials are ongoing to gauge its effectiveness. Lymphangiomas can, unfortunately, reoccur after removal.