Cancer-related secondary lymphoedema due to cutaneous lymphangitis carcinomatosa: clinical presentations and review of literature

R. J. Damstra*, E. A. Jagtman, P. M. Steijlen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Lymphoedema is a clinical condition caused by impairment of the lymphatic system, leading to swelling of subcutaneous soft tissues. As a result, accumulation of protein-rich interstitial fluid and lymphostasis often causes additional swelling, fibrosis and adipose tissue hypertrophy leading to progressive morbidity and loss of quality of life for the patient. Lymphoedema can be distinguished as primary or secondary. Lymphoedema is a complication frequently encountered in patients treated for cancer, especially after lymphadenoectomy and/or radiotherapy based on destruction of lymphatics. However, although lymphatic impairment is sometimes caused by obstructive solid metastasis, we present three cases of secondary lymphoedema with minor dermatological features without detectable solid metastasis. Sometimes this type of lymphoedema is mistakenly called malignant lymphoedema. All patients were previously treated for cancer without clinical signs of recurrence, presented with progressive lymphoedema and minor dermatological features of unknown origin. Clinical and histopathological examination of the skin revealed diffuse lymphangitis carcinomatosa, leading to secondary lymphoedema and adjustment of the therapeutic approach and prognosis. We reviewed literature on these rare presentations of cancer recurrence and recommend, where appropriate, consulting a dermatologist when discrete skin abnormalities are seen in patients with a history of cancer and developing lymphoedema.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-675
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer Care
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2010


  • metastasis cutis
  • lymphangitis carcinomatosa
  • lymphoedema
  • dermatology

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