Imaging features, complications and differential diagnoses of abdominal cystic lymphangiomas

Abdom Radiol (NY). 2020 Nov;45(11):3589-3607. doi: 10.1007/s00261-020-02525-3.


Purpose: The aim of the study is to describe the imaging features, complications and differential diagnoses of abdominal cystic lymphangiomas (ACLs).

Results: ACLs are benign lymphatic malformations that mainly arise in the subperitoneal space and the retroperitoneum. The typical presentation of an ACL is a multilocular lesion with homogenous serous content, presenting a thin wall and septa, usually free from adjacent organ compression. Atypical findings, including fat or hemorrhagic content, septal calcifications and unilocular presentation, are not uncommon. Rarely, ACLs can be revealed by acute complications, such as infection, hemorrhage, intussusception, complications with a twisting mechanism (including torsion around its own pedicle) or spontaneous rupture, which can be diagnosed by imaging. Ultrasonography and CT are the most useful modalities in emergency situations. MRI performs best in the noninvasive characterization of cystic lesions. ACLs should be differentiated from normal anatomic structures (e.g., cisterna chyli) or pitfalls (e.g., ascites, extrapancreatic necrosis, lymphocele) that can simulate ACLs. Among other primary peritoneal cystic lesions, benign cystic mesothelioma can be difficult to differentiate from ACL. Some neoplastic peritoneal lesions may have cystic components or content that looks like fluid on imaging (such as mucinous or myxoid content) and be misdiagnosed as ACL. Nodular or thick enhancement of the wall or septa should then be considered worrisome features and should not suggest ACL. ACLs mostly require a simple follow-up. If treatment is necessary, percutaneous sclerotherapy is a safe and effective alternative to surgery.

Conclusion: Imaging, especially MRI, allows the noninvasive diagnosis of ACL and helps to exclude potential malignant differential diagnoses.

Keywords: Computed tomography; Cystic peritoneal lesions; Lymphangioma; Magnetic resonance imaging; Ultrasonography; cystic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Lymphangioma, Cystic* / diagnostic imaging
  • Retroperitoneal Neoplasms*
  • Ultrasonography

Supplementary concepts

  • Abdominal cystic lymphangioma