Radiological management of postoperative lymphorrhea

Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2021 Jun;406(4):945-969. doi: 10.1007/s00423-021-02094-z. Epub 2021 Apr 12.


Purpose: Postoperative lymphorrhea can occur after different surgical procedures and may prolong the hospital stay due to the need for specific treatment. In this work, the therapeutic significance of the radiological management of postoperative lymphorrhea was assessed and illustrated.

Method: A standardized search of the literature was performed in PubMed applying the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term "lymphangiography." For the review, the inclusion criterion was "studies with original data on Lipiodol-based Conventional Lymphangiography (CL) with subsequent Percutaneous Lymphatic Intervention (PLI)." Different exclusion criteria were defined (e.g., studies with <15 patients). The collected data comprised of clinical background and indications, procedural aspects and types of PLI, and outcomes. In the form of a pictorial essay, each author illustrated a clinical case with CL and/or PLI.

Results: Seven studies (corresponding to evidence level 4 [Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine]) accounting for 196 patients were included in the synthesis and analysis of data. Preceding surgery resulting in postoperative lymphorrhea included different surgical procedures such as extended oncologic surgery or vascular surgery. Central (e.g., chylothorax) and peripheral (e.g., lymphocele) types of postoperative lymphorrhea with a drainage volume of 100-4000 ml/day underwent CL with subsequent PLI. The intervals between "preceding surgery and CL" and between "CL and PLI" were 2-330 days and 0-5 days, respectively. CL was performed before PLI to visualize the lymphatic pathology (e.g., leakage point or inflow lymph ducts), applying fluoroscopy, radiography, and/or computed tomography (CT). In total, seven different types of PLI were identified: (1) thoracic duct (or thoracic inflow lymph duct) embolization, (2) thoracic duct (or thoracic inflow lymph duct) maceration, (3) leakage point direct embolization, (4) inflow lymph node interstitial embolization, (5) inflow lymph duct (other than thoracic) embolization, (6) inflow lymph duct (other than thoracic) maceration, and (7) transvenous retrograde lymph duct embolization. CL-associated and PLI-associated technical success rates were 97-100% and 89-100%, respectively. The clinical success rate of CL and PLI was 73-95%. CL-associated and PLI-associated major complication rates were 0-3% and 0-5%, respectively. The combined CL- and PLI-associated 30-day mortality rate was 0%, and the overall mortality rate was 3% (corresponding to six patients). In the pictorial essay, the spectrum of CL and/or PLI was illustrated.

Conclusion: The radiological management of postoperative lymphorrhea is feasible, safe, and effective. Standardized radiological treatments embedded in an interdisciplinary concept are a step towards improving outcomes.

Keywords: Lymphangiography; Lymphorrhea; Percutaneous lymphatic intervention; Radiological management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chylothorax* / diagnostic imaging
  • Chylothorax* / etiology
  • Chylothorax* / therapy
  • Embolization, Therapeutic*
  • Ethiodized Oil
  • Humans
  • Lymphocele*
  • Lymphography
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnostic imaging
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy
  • Thoracic Duct


  • Ethiodized Oil