Lymphangioma refers to a rare, congenital condition that usually does not pose a health threat unless it occurs in a fetus. Lymphangiomas occur when a blockage in the lymphic system leads to fluid accumulation, and they typically appear as a fluid-filled, yellowish or reddish bubble or series of bubbles beneath the skin.
They are mainly seen in children under the age of two and many are diagnosed in the womb. Although they can occur anywhere in the body, about 90% are found in the head and neck. They present as a mass and are benign. If they are removed it is usually done for cosmetic reasons as they rarely pose any medical threats.
Types of lymphangioma include - Capillary lymphangioma – These are made up of small lymphatic vessels found in the epidermis.
Cystic Lymphangioma – These are large masses filled with liquid.
Cavernous lymphangioma – Cavernous lymphangioma are comprised of dilated lymphatic channels. They can invade the tissues around them.
Signs and Symptoms
Capillary lymphangioma consists of one or a cluster of translucent, bubble-like structures of varying sizes on the surface of the skin. They are typically pink to dark red in color.
Cavernous lymphaniomas vary widely in size, ranging from as small as a centimeter in diameter to several centimeters wide. In some cases, they may even affect an entire extremity such as a hand or foot. Although they are usually painless, the patient may feel mild pain when pressure is exerted on the area.
Cystic lymphangiomas usually have a softer consistency than cavernous lymphaniomas, and this term is typically the one that is applied to lymphangiomas that develop in fetuses.
Causes and Risk Factors
The direct cause of lymphangioma is a blockage of the lymphatic system as a fetus develops, although symptoms may not become visible until after the baby is born. This blockage, in turn, is thought to be caused by a number of factors, including maternal alcohol use and viral infections during pregnancy.
Diagnosis and Treatment
As mentioned, lymphangioma can be detected using ultrasound. Other than looking at the cells under a microscope there is no test that can be done to accurately diagnose lymphangioma. An MRI is sometimes helpful in showing the extent of the growth of a lymphangioma.
The most effective treatment for lymphangioma is complete surgical removal. This is rarely possible without having to also remove some surrounding healthy tissue and for this reason lymphangioma often have a high rate of recurrence. However, since they are benign, prognosis is generally excellent.