Lymphatic malformations are a rare, non-malignant development that are usually apparent at birth or by two years of age. The lymphatic malformations are masses consisting of fluid-filled channels or spaces where the flow of lymph across a region are defective. When the channels or spaces in a region are unable to allow for proper flow, lymph will accumulate within the defective vessels and will present as a mass. These lymphatic malformations can occur on any area of the body (except the brain), but they are most commonly found at the head and neck. These masses can vary in shape and size, and they can potentially cause disfigurement of affected areas.
The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body. As part of the immune system, the lymphatic system is designed to protect the body against infection and disease.
Inside the body are tubular channels that make up the lymph vessels. These vessels are the highway for the transportation of the watery fluid known as lymph. As lymph moves through the lymphatic system, it passes through a network of lymph nodes that help the body remove sources of infection and inflammation. Lymphatic malformations are not cancerous, and they should not be confused with any relationship to cancer.
Lymphatic malformations are masses that are usually firm and not compressible. The size and shape of the mass can fluctuate with the flow of lymph along the lymphatic system. If an infection or virus is present in the body, additional lymph will be pushed along the vessels in order to fight against the illness. However, when the cannels do not allow for proper flow and there is an increase in the amount of lymph in the vessels, there will usually be an increase in the size of the malformation. The natural history of lymphatic malformations is relentless expansion with advancing age. Some malformations will enlarge more rapidly than others, while others are less active and expand at a much slower rate.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a lymphatic malformation or disorder, please contact the Vascular Birthmark Institute of New York. Dr. Milton Waner and his entire interdisciplinary team provide world-class care in the diagnosis, treatment, management, and research of all vascular malformations.