Medscape is available in 5 Language Editions – Choose your Edition here.



  • Author: Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 10, 2016


Lymphangiomas are uncommon, hamartomatous, congenital malformations of the lymphatic system that involve the skin and subcutaneous tissues. The classification of lymphangiomas lacks a standard clear definition and universal application, in part because of the nature of lymphangiomas, which represent a clinicopathologic continuum. The classification most frequently used divides these lesions into 2 major groups based on the depth and the size of these abnormal lymph vessels. The superficial vesicles are called lymphangioma circumscriptum. The more deep-seated group includes cavernous lymphangioma and cystic hygroma. Many categorize cystic hygroma as a variant of cavernous lymphangioma. Note the image below.

A 16-year-old obese boy with large unilateral verr A 16-year-old obese boy with large unilateral verrucous lymphangioma.

Lymphangiomas can occur anywhere in the skin and the mucous membranes. The most common sites are the head and the neck, followed by the proximal extremities, the buttocks, and the trunk. However, they sometimes can be found in the intestines, the pancreas, and the mesentery. Deeper cystic lesions usually occur in areas of loose and areolar tissue, typically the neck, the axilla, and the groin. Their skin involvement ranges from small, well-demarcated areas to large, diffuse regions with unclear borders.

Lymphangioma circumscriptum, the common form of cutaneous lymphangioma, is characterized by persistent, multiple clusters of translucent vesicles that usually contain clear lymph fluid (often compared with frog spawn).[1] These vesicles represent superficial saccular dilations from underlying lymphatic vessels that occupy the papilla and push upward against the overlying epidermis. Each skin lesion may range from a minute vesicle to a small bulla-sized lesion. These vesicles can be clear or vary from pink to dark red because of serosanguineous fluid and hemorrhage. These vesicles often are associated with verrucous changes, which give them a warty appearance.

In the case of lymphangioma circumscriptum, the underlying lesions constitute abnormal dilated lymph vessels involving the upper part of the dermis. The sites of predilection are the proximal extremities, trunk, axilla, and oral cavity, especially the tongue. Involvement in other areas, such as the scrotum, is not uncommon. Lymphangioma circumscriptum has a high recurrence rate after excision because of its deep component (see Pathophysiology).

Cavernous lymphangioma are also uncommon and usually arise during infancy. The most common sites are the head and neck areas and, less frequently, the extremities. These lesions are seated deep in the dermis, forming a painless swelling or thickening of the skin, mucous membranes, and subcutaneous tissue. Unlike lymphangioma circumscriptum, the overlying skin usually is uninvolved. Occasionally, patients report pain when the involved area is pressed. The affected area may be 1 cm, it may be as large as several centimeters in diameter, or it may involve an entire extremity. Upon examination and palpation, lipomas or cysts can be mistaken for these lesions. Lymphangioma circumscriptum can occur in conjunction with cavernous lymphangioma and cystic hygroma.

Some authors categorize cystic hygroma or cystic lymphangioma as an independent entity. Many authors agree that cystic hygroma is a form of cavernous lymphangioma in which the degree of involvement and character is determined by its location. These congenital lesions are deeply seated in areas of areolar or loose connective tissue. They appear early in life as large soft-tissue masses, usually on the axilla, neck, or groin. These lesions are soft, vary in size and shape, and tend to grow extensively if not surgically excised. Typical lesions are multilocular cysts filled with clear or yellow lymph fluid. Usually, cystic hygroma is diagnosed clinically with its large size, location, and translucence.

Terminology for these lesions can be confusing.[2] Some lymphangiectasias have sometimes been called acquired lymphangiomas, secondary lymphangiomas and acquired lymphangioma circumscriptum.



In 1976, Whimster[3] studied the pathogenesis of lymphangioma circumscriptum. According to Whimster, the basic pathologic process is the collection of lymphatic cisterns in the deep subcutaneous plane. These cisterns are separated from the normal network of lymph vessels, but they communicate with the superficial lymph vesicles through vertical, dilated lymph channels.

Whimster postulated that these cisterns might arise from a primitive lymph sac that fails to connect with the rest of the lymphatic system during its embryonic development. A thick coat of muscle fibers that cause rhythmic contractions line these sequestered primitive sacs. Rhythmic contractions increase the intramural pressure, causing dilated channels to protrude from the walls of the cisterns toward the skin. He suggested that the vesicles seen in lymphangioma circumscriptum are outpouchings of these dilated projecting vessels.

Whimster's observations are supported by those of lymphangiographic and radiographic studies. These studies revealed that large multilobulated cisterns extend deep in the dermis and laterally beyond the obvious clinical lesions. These deep lymphangiomas show no evidence of communication with the adjacent normal lymphatics. The cause for the failure of these primitive lymph sacs to connect to the rest of the lymphatic system is not known.

Some lymphangiomas may represent vascular malformations during embryonic development rather than as true neoplasms.[4] Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)–C and VEGF receptor-3 are active in the formation of lymphangiomas. Based upon their expression, superficial lymphangiomas more likely result from peripheral lymphatic dilatation than from a growth factor.

Fetal lymphangioma is presumably a result of failure in lymphatic drainage.[5]



US frequency

Lymphangiomas are rare. They account for 4% of all vascular tumors and approximately 25% of all benign vascular tumors in children.


No racial predominance is reported for lymphangiomas.


Equal sex incidences are reported for lymphangiomas in most studies. Some groups have reported that lymphangioma circumscriptum is more common in females than in males, while others report a 3:1 male-to-female ratio.


Lymphangioma can become evident at any age, but the greatest incidence occurs at birth or early in life. About 50% of lymphangiomas are seen at birth, and most lymphangiomas are evident by the time the patient is aged 5 years. It may be documented in fetuses too.[5]



Lymphangiomas are benign hamartomatous malformations instead of true neoplasms. The prognosis for lymphangiomas is excellent.

Rarely do cutaneous lymphangiomas interfere with the well-being of patients. Patients are expected to live a full healthy life, and they usually seek medical intervention because of cosmetic reason.

Lymphangiomas represent hamartomatous malformations with no risk of malignant transformation. In the case of cystic hygroma, total surgical excision is appropriate to prevent complications such as respiratory compromise, aspiration, and infections in critical areas, such as the neck. Lymphangiomas have a strong tendency for local recurrence unless they are completely excised. Recurrent episodes of cellulitis and minor bleeding are not uncommon.


Patient Education

Patients should receive reassurance. Lymphangiomas represent benign lymphatic malformations and not premalignant lesions. Patients should be aware of the risk of recurrence.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Geover Fernandez, MD, FAAD Staff Physician, Department of Dermatology, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

Geover Fernandez, MD, FAAD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for MOHS Surgery

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.

Jeffrey J Miller, MD Associate Professor of Dermatology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine; Staff Dermatologist, Pennsylvania State Milton S Hershey Medical Center

Jeffrey J Miller, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology, Association of Professors of Dermatology, North American Hair Research Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

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.

Additional Contributors

Carrie L Kovarik, MD Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Dermatopathology, and Infectious Diseases, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Carrie L Kovarik, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

  1. Patel GA, Siperstein RD, Ragi G, Schwartz RA. Zosteriform lymphangioma circumscriptum. Acta Dermatovenerol Alp Panonica Adriat. 2009 Dec. 18(4):179-82. [Medline].

  2. Verma SB. Lymphangiectasias of the skin: victims of confusing nomenclature. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2009 Jul. 34(5):566-9. [Medline].

  3. Whimster IW. The pathology of lymphangioma circumscriptum. Br J Dermatol. 1976 May. 94(5):473-86. [Medline].

  4. Itakura E, Yamamoto H, Oda Y, Furue M, Tsuneyoshi M. VEGF-C and VEGFR-3 in a series of lymphangiomas: is superficial lymphangioma a true lymphangioma?. Virchows Arch. 2009 Mar. 454(3):317-25. [Medline].

  5. Ersoy AO, Oztas E, Saridogan E, Ozler S, Danisman N. An Unusual Origin of Fetal Lymphangioma Filling Right Axilla. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 Mar. 10 (3):QD09-11. [Medline].

  6. Wong R, Melnyk M, Tang SS, Nguan C. Scrotal lymphangiomatosis: a case report. Can Urol Assoc J. 2012 Feb. 6(1):E11-4. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  7. Bagheri A, Amoohashemi N, Salour H, Yazdani S. Lacrimal Gland Lymphangioma: Report of a Case and Review of Literature. Orbit. 2012 Feb 16. [Medline].

  8. Shah A, Meacock L, More B, Chandran H. Lymphangioma of the penis: a rare anomaly. Pediatr Surg Int. 2005 Apr. 21(4):329-30. [Medline].

  9. Mehta V, Nayak S, Balachandran C, Monga P, Rao R. Extensive congenital vulvar lymphangioma mimicking genital warts. Indian J Dermatol. 2010. 55(1):121-2. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  10. Chang MB, Newman CC, Davis MD, Lehman JS. Acquired lymphangiectasia (lymphangioma circumscriptum) of the vulva: Clinicopathologic study of 11 patients from a single institution and 67 from the literature. Int J Dermatol. 2016 Mar 9. [Medline].

  11. Núñez EC, Peñaranda JM, Alonso MS, Ortiz-Rey JA. Acquired Vulvar Lymphangioma: A Case Series With Emphasis on Expanding Clinical Contexts. Int J Gynecol Pathol. 2014 Mar 27. [Medline].

  12. Horn LC, Kuhndel K, Pawlowitsch T, Leo C, Einenkel J. Acquired lymphangioma circumscriptum of the vulva mimicking genital warts. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2005 Nov 1. 123(1):118-20. [Medline].

  13. Aggarwal K, Gupta S, Jain VK, Marwah N. Congenital lymphangioma circumscriptum of the vulva. Indian Pediatr. 2009 May. 46(5):428-9. [Medline].

  14. Cestaro G, De Rosa M, Gentile M, Massaron S. A case of HPV and acquired genital lymphangioma: over-lapping clinical features. Ann Ital Chir. 2015 Mar 25. 86:[Medline].

  15. Pearce JM, Griffin D, Campbell S. Cystic hygromata in trisomy 18 and 21. Prenat Diagn. 1984 Sep-Oct. 4(5):371-5. [Medline].

  16. Marchese C, Savin E, Dragone E, et al. Cystic hygroma: prenatal diagnosis and genetic counselling. Prenat Diagn. 1985 May-Jun. 5(3):221-7. [Medline].

  17. Park SH, Moon SK, Sung JY. Sonographic findings in a case of scrotal lymphangioma. J Clin Ultrasound. 2014 May. 42(4):234-6. [Medline].

  18. Amini S, Kim NH, Zell DS, Oliviero MC, Rabinovitz HS. Dermoscopic-histopathologic correlation of cutaneous lymphangioma circumscriptum. Arch Dermatol. 2008 Dec. 144(12):1671-2. [Medline].

  19. Arpaia N, Cassano N, Vena GA. Dermoscopic features of cutaneous lymphangioma circumscriptum. Dermatol Surg. 2006 Jun. 32(6):852-4. [Medline].

  20. Massa AF, Menezes N, Baptista A, Moreira AI, Ferreira EO. Cutaneous Lymphangioma circumscriptum - dermoscopic features. An Bras Dermatol. 2015 Mar-Apr. 90(2):262-4. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  21. Ozeki M, Fukao T, Kondo N. Propranolol for intractable diffuse lymphangiomatosis. N Engl J Med. 2011 Apr 7. 364(14):1380-2. [Medline].

  22. Werner JA, Eivazi B, Folz BJ, Dünne AA. [State of the art of classification, diagnostics and therapy for cervicofacial hemangiomas and vascular malformations]. Laryngorhinootologie. 2006 Dec. 85(12):883-91. [Medline].

  23. Mirza B, Ijaz L, Saleem M, Sheikh A. Different Modalities Used to Treat Concurrent Lymphangioma of Chest wall and Scrotum. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2010 Sep. 3(3):189-90. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  24. Emer J, Gropper J, Gallitano S, Levitt J. A case of lymphangioma circumscriptum successfully treated with electrodessication following failure of pulsed dye laser. Dermatol Online J. 2013 Mar 15. 19(3):2. [Medline].

  25. Haas AF, Narurkar VA. Recalcitrant breast lymphangioma circumscriptum treated by UltraPulse carbon dioxide laser. Dermatol Surg. 1998 Aug. 24(8):893-5. [Medline].

  26. Sasaki R, Negishi K, Akita H, Suzuki K, Matsunaga K. Successful Treatment of Congenital Lymphangioma Circumscriptum of the Vulva with CO2 and Long-Pulsed Nd:YAG Lasers. Case Rep Dermatol. 2014 Jan. 6(1):1-4. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  27. Torezan LA, Careta MF, Osorio N. Intra-Oral Lymphangioma Successfully Treated Using Fractional Carbon Dioxide Laser. Dermatol Surg. 2013 Feb 22. [Medline].

  28. Bikowski JB, Dumont AM. Lymphangioma circumscriptum: treatment with hypertonic saline sclerotherapy. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005 Sep. 53(3):442-4. [Medline].

  29. Ahn SJ, Chang SE, Choi JH, Moon KC, Koh JK, Kim DY. A case of unresectable lymphangioma circumscriptum of the vulva successfully treated with OK-432 in childhood. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 Nov. 55(5 Suppl):S106-7. [Medline].

  30. Okazaki T, Iwatani S, Yanai T, et al. Treatment of lymphangioma in children: our experience of 128 cases. J Pediatr Surg. 2007 Feb. 42(2):386-9. [Medline].

  31. Yoon KR, Mo AJ, Park SH, Na YS, Park ST. Carvenous lymphangioma of the vulva. Obstet Gynecol Sci. 2015 Jan. 58(1):77-9. [Medline]. [Full Text].

  32. Katz MS, Finck CM, Schwartz MZ, Moront ML, Prasad R, Timmapuri SJ, et al. Vacuum-assisted closure in the treatment of extensive lymphangiomas in children. J Pediatr Surg. 2012 Feb. 47(2):367-70. [Medline].

  33. Rattan KN, Kajal P, Kadian YS, Gupta R. Haemorrhage in a scrotal lymphangioma in a child: a rarity. Afr J Paediatr Surg. 2009 Jul-Dec. 6(2):110-1. [Medline].

  34. Emanuel PO, Lin R, Silver L, Birge MB, Shim H, Phelps RG. Dabska tumor arising in lymphangioma circumscriptum. J Cutan Pathol. 2008 Jan. 35(1):65-9. [Medline].

A 44-year-old woman with plaque on her forearm since birth that clinically appeared to be typical lymphangioma circumscriptum. Histologically, however, it had features of both hemangioma and lymphangioma.
Close-up demonstrating the clinical morphology to better advantage.
A 16-year-old obese boy with large unilateral verrucous lymphangioma.
All material on this website is protected by copyright, Copyright © 1994-2016 by WebMD LLC. This website also contains material copyrighted by 3rd parties.