A lymphangioma is a benign growth found in the lymphatic system. Most of these abnormalities occur in young children under the age of two. They may be present from birth or may begin at a later time. While a lymphangioma may form anywhere on the skin or mucous membranes, the neck and head are the most common locations.
A blockage and subsequent tangling in the lymphatic system — most often during fetal development — gives rise to lymphangiomas. The lympathic system is an important component of the immune system wherein bacteria and other foreign substances are destroyed. This lympathic system blockage may derive from a number of factors such as infection or alcohol consumption by the mother. Ultrasounds and amniocentesis — a testing of amniotic fluid — may best alert medical professionals to the possible condition.
Lymphangiomas are characterized by different locations, sizes, and appearances. A macrocystic lymphangioma is generally smaller than 0.8 inches (about 2 cm), whereas a microcystic lymphangioma typically grows larger than 0.8 inches (about 2 cm). Categorization also occurs dependent on where the lymphangioma is located in relation to a neck bone called the hyoid bone and whether or not the growths occur on both sides of the body. A lymphangomia can be named in accordance to its appearance as well. Such classifications include capillary, cavernous, and cystic.
Symptoms of lymphatic system malformation vary by type. Cystic types are large and fluid-filled, and thus often appear as bulges beneath the skin. These congenital lymphangiomas frequently arise on the neck, groin, and arm pits. Mild pain upon compression of the swollen area may result. Cavernous lymphangiomas share similar symptoms and origins, but these types are usually found deep under the skin of the neck or mouth and they are also more likely to spread. Other types of lymphangiomas known as lymphangioma circumscriptum may consist of small pink or red blister clusters on the surface of the skin.
Although benign, lymphangiomas can facilitate complications. Bleeding and infections are perhaps the two chief concerns. A large growth may also obstruct the mucous membranes and respiratory system and therefore distress breathing. In some cases, the growths may serve as an early indicator of genetic or chromosomal disorders. In addition, large cluster of lymphangiomas may prove unsightly in a cosmetic sense.
Proper treatment can generally alleviate most associated symptoms. Fluid drainage may provide short-term relief in less severe cases. Radiotherapy is also utilized with selected patients. When feasible and least damaging to surrounding healthy tissue, surgical removal remains the most effective treatment protocol.