A systematic review of magnetic resonance lymphography for the evaluation of peripheral lymphedema

Renee M. L. Misere, Joost A. G. N. Wolfs, Marc B. I. Lobbes, Rene R. W. J. van der Hulst, Shan S. Qiu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Objective: Visualization of the lymphatic system is necessary for both early diagnosis and associated treatments. A promising imaging modality is magnetic resonance lymphography (MRL). The aim of this review was to summarize different MRL protocols, to assess the clinical value in patients with peripheral lymphedema, and to define minimal requirements necessary for visualization of lymphatics.

Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted in PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Library in December 2018. Studies performing MRL in patients with peripheral lymphedema or healthy participants were included. Study design, population, etiology, duration of lymphedema, clinical staging, contrast agent, dose, injection site, and technical magnetic resonance imaging details were analyzed. No meta-analyses were performed because of different study aims and heterogeneity of the study populations.

Results: Twenty-five studies involving 1609 patients with both primary lymphedema (n = 669) and secondary lymphedema (n = 657) were included. Upper and lower limbs were examined in 296 and 602 patients, respectively. Twenty-two studies used a gadolinium-based contrast agent that was injected intracutaneously or subcutaneously in the interdigital web spaces. Contrast-enhanced T1-weighted combined with T2-weighted protocols were most frequently used. T1-weighted images showed lymphatics in 63.3% to 100%, even in vessels with a diameter of >= 0.5 mm. Dermal backflow and a honeycomb pattern were clearly recognized.

Conclusions: MRL identifies superficial lymphatic vessels with a diameter of >= 0.5mmwith high sensitivity and specificity and accurately shows abnormal lymphatics and lymphatic drainage patterns. Therefore, MRL could be of clinical value in both early and advanced stages of peripheral lymphedema. Minimum requirements of an MRL protocol should consist of a gadolinium-based contrast-enhanced T1-weighted gradient-recalled echo sequence combined with T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging, with acquisition at least 30 minutes after injection of contrast material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)882-892.e2
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Vascular Surgery: Venous and Lymphatic Disorders
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Magnetic resonance lymphangiography
  • MRL
  • Lymphography
  • Peripheral lymphedema
  • Lymphedema


Dive into the research topics of 'A systematic review of magnetic resonance lymphography for the evaluation of peripheral lymphedema'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this