Lymphatic Malformations of the Airway

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To characterize the anatomic distribution of lymphatic malformations of the upper airway.

Study Design

Case series with chart review.


Tertiary care referral center specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of vascular anomalies.


A 7-year (2004-2011) retrospective chart review of patients with lymphatic malformations was performed at a tertiary care referral center. Patients with airway lymphatic malformations were identified. The anatomic distribution of lymphatic malformations within the airway was reviewed.


A total of 141 patients with lymphatic malformations of the upper aerodigestive tract (UADT) were studied. Of these, 15 (11%) had laryngeal (supraglottic) involvement. In all of these patients, the disease was above the true vocal folds. Seventy-four (52%) patients had involvement of 1 anatomic zone (most common was the oral cavity), and 67 (48%) had involvement of multiple zones. With regard to each zone, 105 (75%) patients had involvement of the oral cavity, 50 (36%) the oropharynx, 8 (6%) the hypopharynx, 42 (30%) the parapharynx, and 12 (9%) had retropharygeal disease (some patients had multiple zones involved). No patients were identified with glottic, subglottic, or tracheal involvement.


Based on our large series, airway involvement in head and neck lymphatic malformations may occur at multiple sites above the glottis. A high percentage of these patients have involvement of the oral cavity (75%) and oropharynx (35%). None involve the glottis, subglottis, or trachea.

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