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Oral Lymphangiomas Treatment & Management

  • Author: Kruti Parikh; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
Updated: Feb 12, 2015

Medical Care

The mainstay of medical management for oral lymphangiomas is observation. Small oral lymphatic malformations that are not associated with any functional sequelae may be observed. All patients require evaluation of airway patency, speech, and nutritional concerns.


Some authors advocate a period of watchful waiting in cases of asymptomatic lesions because a few reports show that the lesions regress spontaneously.

Other authors recommend excision as soon as the patient can safely tolerate a general anesthetic. These authors are concerned about the complications associated with untreated lesions and recognize the fact that repeated infections make future excision difficult.


Propranolol has been evaluated in one small study at a dose 2 mg/kg/day for 3 months for the treatment of oral lymphangiomas. This study showed no improvement in the size of the oral lymphangiomas.[17]

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is of only historical interest. This treatment should not be used because of its poor effectiveness, its multiple complications, and the risk of postradiation malignancies.


Surgical Care

Treatment of lymphatic malformations continues to evolve. Although surgical removal is overwhelmingly the most common modality used, sclerotherapy is being increasingly used to treat macrocystic lesions throughout the head and neck. Often the 2 modalities are combined for optimal outcomes. Determine the timing of intervention on a case-by-case basis. Lesions that impinge on the airway usually require the earliest intervention.[18, 4]

Isolated superficial malformations are often more of a nuisance than a debilitating condition. Given the fact that these are malformations and not true neoplasms and that they are entirely devoid of malignant potential, treatment should be aimed at maximizing the patient's function. In addition, treatment that results in a loss of function should not be tolerated. Early involvement of consultants can be helpful in meeting the goal of maximizing the patient's function and determining an optimal treatment plan.

Incision and drainage

Limit incision and drainage to emergent decompression of a lesion. This procedure does not eliminate the lesion but decreases the risk of infection.

Surgical excision

Surgical excision remains the standard for treatment of lymphatic malformations, although many lesions are especially difficult to remove entirely because of their involvement with important neural and muscular structures; thus, these lesions are associated with the highest risk of recurrence and complications.

Recurrence rates of 20-40% are typically reported after surgical excision when the surgeon believes that the lesion is removed in its entirety.[19]

Complications of surgical excision of suprahyoid and oral lesions are also common. These operations can be difficult undertakings because of the diffuse infiltrative nature of the lesions and the difficulty in determining normal tissue from abnormal tissue.

Complication rates typically are 20-30%. Complications include airway obstruction, seromas and hematomas, infections, and cranial nerve palsies. Moreover, the reported operative mortality rates are 2.5-11.4%.

Surgical debulking, as part of a staged intervention plan, may be useful with large lingual malformations. Surgical debulking may obviate long-term tracheostomy, facilitate feeding, improve speech, and simplify further treatment, regardless of the modality used.

Surgical excision of macrocystic lesions may be facilitated by instilling fibrin glue into the cysts after partial aspiration of cystic contents.

Laser therapy

Surface laser photocoagulation is used as an adjunct for controlling the size of the tongue, treating superficial lesions, and controlling bleeding.

Promising results with laser treatment have been reported, with long periods of remission; however, surface laser photocoagulation does not guarantee a cure.[20, 21]

Repeated hospital admissions for laser photocoagulation are not unusual. Some patients undergo as many as 25 procedures, which can be a significant burden on the patient and his or her family. This consideration is important because the patient is already consulting with multiple specialists and undergoing multiple procedures.

Results appear to be equivalent regardless of whether carbon dioxide, argon, or Nd:YAG laser is used. Carbon dioxide laser and fractional carbon dioxide laser are more commonly used for oral lymphangiomas, given the lasers’ high affinity for water and high absorption in the oral mucosa.[20, 21] Radiofrequency ablation, also known as the coblation technique, has been effective at both the high- and low-frequency settings, with the ability to ablate the oral lymphangioma while maintaining functional integrity and hemostasis.[22]

Orthognathic surgery

Maxillofacial skeletal deformities and malocclusions should be treated with combined orthognathic and osteoplastic surgical procedures. Lesions of the upper part of the neck and, particularly, the floor of the mouth tend to be associated with bony overgrowth leading to class III malocclusions and open bite deformities. These lesions usually require combined surgical and orthodontic correction.

Orthognathic surgery is usually delayed until growth is complete, except in patients in whom the severity of the deformity necessitates earlier intervention.

Sclerotherapy [23, 24]

Myriad agents are used as sclerosing agents in attempts to avoid surgery and its attendant problems or to treat remnant lesions after partial excision.

The use of bleomycin has produced some impressive results. Good or excellent results (ie, tumor disappeared and did not recur with 3-8 injections or fewer, respectively) occur in 75-100% of patients, depending on the dominant histologic pattern of the lesion. Pulmonary fibrosis (the worst complication) generally occurs only when cumulative doses exceed 450 mg. Injected doses from 0.25-0.6 mg/kg at 2-week or 2-months intervals, for a cumulative dose not exceeding 50 mg, have not resulted in pulmonary fibrosis. Adverse effects include fever and anorexia lasting 24 hours in about 10% of patients. No adverse effects on growth and development are reported.[25]

Tissucol, a fibrin sealant, is reported to induce a high rate of remission in lymphatic malformations. Adverse effects are not observed, though a potential for infectious disease transmission exists. Even superficial lesions can be successfully treated, although multiple injections (as many as 3) are often required.

OK-432, a lyophilized incubation mixture of group A Streptococcus pyogenes of human origin treated with penicillin G, has been in sclerotherapy since the mid-1980s. Total or marked shrinkage is observed in 67% of lesions. OK-432 stimulates an intense inflammatory response that causes cystic spaces to shrink and preserves the endothelium with no scar formation. OK-432 may enhance the permeability of the endothelium, facilitating decompression. Adverse effects include a transient fever for 2-3 days after the injection and irritation at the injection site.[26]

Repeated injections of sclerosing agents are often required, and resolution usually occurs over 1-4 months.

Macrocystic lesions are most amenable to sclerotherapy, followed by microcystic lesions and then superficial lesions.

Sclerotherapy does not represent an advantage compared with surgical ablation, with respect to success and ease of treatment. Success rates vary considerably depending on the agent used. Generally, boiling water, sodium morrhuate, tetracycline, 50% dextrose, and steroids are not effective in treating lymphatic malformations.

The encouraging results reported with sclerotherapy in conjunction with its low complication rate favor its adoption into the treatment protocols for lymphatic malformation, either as a stand-alone modality or as an adjunct to surgery.




Preoperative consultation with an anesthesiologist is often necessary for planning perioperative airway management.

Speech pathologist

Preoperative assessment by a speech pathologist can help in identifying patients with deranged swallowing mechanics and in optimizing speech patterns.

The speech pathologist's input can help determine the need for and timing of intervention.

Postoperative consultation is often necessary for correcting any accumulated speech pathology and for managing rehabilitation, which is particularly important when lesions involve the tongue and soft palate.

Early involvement of speech pathologists and audiologists can help in identifying problems early in the course of the disease (see Complications). These specialists can aid in optimizing the patient's treatment plan.

Pediatric dentist and orthodontist

Consultation is warranted to optimize the health and development of the patient's dentition.

Consultation with an orthodontist is warranted when orthognathic surgery is planned for the correction of maxillofacial skeletal deformities.

Pediatric dentists should be involved early in the care of children with oral lymphangiomas. Regular dental prophylaxis (q4-6mo) should be aggressively pursued to minimize the likelihood of developing an odontogenic source for infection of the malformation (see Complications).


Dietitians should address the perioperative feeding of the patient before surgery is performed. A dietitian can help in educating the patient and his or her family.

Otolaryngologist and/or audiologist

Otolaryngologists are instrumental in the assessment and management of lesions involving the lower airway. Tracheostomy is required in as many as 50% of infants with cervicofacial lymphatic malformations. Tracheostomy places a tremendous burden on the child and family and, significantly, negatively impairs the child's quality of life. Decannulation should be aggressively pursued as part of the multidisciplinary management of the lesion.

When lesions involve the soft palate, the potential for eustachian tube dysfunction exists.

Because consultants may identify hearing deficits that could result, they aid in determining the need for and timing of intervention.



Depending on the location and size of the lesion, a variety of enteral feeding modalities may be required. Short-term bypass feeding while convalescing from surgery is most easily accomplished by using a nasogastric feeding tube. When prolonged (>4-6 wk) feeding difficulties are anticipated, a feeding gastrostomy is typically preferred. When an oral diet is permitted, patients typically begin with a clear liquid diet until approximately 2 weeks after surgery or longer if complications delay wound healing.



Activity restrictions depend on the extent of the lesion. Patients in whom only superficial lesions are removed do not require activity restriction. Patients undergoing major debulking of larger lesions are generally advised to refrain from strenuous activity for approximately 4-6 weeks.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Kruti Parikh Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

David F Butler, MD Section Chief of Dermatology, Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System; Professor of Dermatology, Texas A&M University College of Medicine; Founding Chair, Department of Dermatology, Scott and White Clinic

David F Butler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, Alpha Omega Alpha, Association of Military Dermatologists, American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for MOHS Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Drore Eisen, MD, DDS Consulting Staff, Department of Dermatology, Dermatology Research Associates of Cincinnati

Drore Eisen, MD, DDS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Academy of Oral Medicine, American Dental Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

William D James, MD Paul R Gross Professor of Dermatology, Vice-Chairman, Residency Program Director, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

William D James, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Sean P Edwards, DDS, MD, FRCD(C) Assistant Professor, Chief of Pediatric Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Section of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Department of Surgery, C S Mott Children's Hospital, University of Michigan Medical Center

Sean P Edwards, DDS, MD, FRCD(C) is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Cleft Palate/Craniofacial Association, American Medical Association, International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, and Royal College of Dentists of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Joseph Helman, DMD Professor and Chair, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Michigan

Joseph Helman, DMD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Cleft Palate/Craniofacial Association, American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Head and Neck Society, and International Academy of Oral Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Smeena Khan, MD Private Practice, Adult and Pediatric Dermatology Associates

Smeena Khan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha and American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Marked lingual enlargement caused by lymphatic malformation. Note the pebbly surface in areas not covered by materia alba. Also note the ecchymotic lesions protruding from the buccal mucosa in the mandibular vestibules.
Note the significant left buccal and submandibular swelling.
Profile view of a young adult with oral lymphangioma (same patient as in Media File 2).
Superficial lymphatic malformation.
Superficial lymphatic malformation.
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