Lymphangiomas are noncancerous fluid-filled cysts that form in children, often on the head and neck. These cysts form when lymph fluid backs up and doesn’t flow normally through tissues. Most lymphangiomas don’t need treatment, but your provider can remove lymphangiomas surgically if needed.
Causes of Lymphangioma
The exact cause of lymphangiomas is unknown, but they happen as a result of your child’s lymphatic system not forming properly during fetal development.
Your body has a network of vessels, tissues and organs that carry lymphatic fluid, which contains white blood cells, through your bloodstream and tissues.
This network is the lymphatic system and it regulates how much fluid is in your body to help your immune system function properly.
Like a hose carrying water, your lymphatic system is constantly flowing.
Sometimes, the fluid in the lymph vessel backs up, similar to a kink in a hose.
This kink creates a pool of lymph fluid to collect in front of the blockage. As a result, the pool of fluid appears as a liquid-filled bump on the skin (cyst).
Symptoms of Lymphangioma
Symptoms of lymphangioma are unique to each person diagnosed with the condition and vary based on the size (depth) and location of the cyst including:
Cystic hygroma (cystic lymphangioma)
A red to blue swollen, fluid-filled mass often found on the neck, groin or armpit.
A red to blue swollen, rubbery mass often found on the tongue but can form anywhere on the body.
A small group of clear to pink to red to brown or black pimple-sized, fluid-filled blisters found on the mouth, shoulders, neck, arms and legs.
Diagnosis of Lymphangioma
Depending on the size of the lymphangioma, a prenatal ultrasound can detect the cyst before birth.
After your baby is born, your healthcare provider will examine the cyst.
They might order an ultrasound or MRI to learn more about the size and what caused the growth.
If there are no lymphangiomas present when your child is born, the cysts could form between birth and 2 years of age, sometimes up to 5 years.
Cysts become more noticeable with age.
Prevention of Lymphangioma
You can’t prevent lymphangiomas from forming because they are the result of abnormal lymphatic system development that happened while your child was growing.
In some cases, lymphangiomas form as a symptom of an underlying genetic condition.
If you plan on becoming pregnant and want to understand your risk of having a child with a genetic condition, talk with your healthcare provider about genetic testing.
Treatment of Lymphangioma
After diagnosis, your child’s provider will identify treatment options unique to their cysts. Most of the time, lymphangiomas don’t need treatment since they are noncancerous.
Treatment might be necessary if the cyst is large and prevents your child from moving or it is blocking a vital organ. Your provider will work to remove the cyst by performing: