Fibrosis and secondary lymphedema: chicken or egg?

Transl Res. 2019 Jul:209:68-76. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2019.04.001. Epub 2019 Apr 4.


Secondary lymphedema is a common complication of cancer treatment resulting in progressive fibroadipose tissue deposition, increased risk of infections, and, in rare cases, secondary malignancies. Until recently, the pathophysiology of secondary lymphedema was thought to be related to impaired collateral lymphatic formation after surgical injury. However, more recent studies have shown that chronic inflammation-induced fibrosis plays a key role in the pathophysiology of this disease. In this review, we will discuss the evidence supporting this hypothesis and summarize recent publications demonstrating that lymphatic injury activates chronic immune responses that promote fibrosis and lymphatic leakiness, decrease collecting lymphatic pumping, and impair collateral lymphatic formation. We will review how chronic mixed T-helper cell inflammatory reactions regulate this process and how this response may be used to design novel therapies for lymphedema.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Vessels / injuries
  • Lymphatic Vessels / pathology*
  • Lymphedema / immunology
  • Lymphedema / pathology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Models, Biological
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology