Cutaneous lymphatics and chronic lymphedema of the head and neck



Extensive attention has been directed to lymphedema involving the extremities. However, there has been relatively limited study of the cutaneous lymphatics of the head and neck. In this review of head and neck lymphatics, we capsulize the history of the lymphatics, the anatomy of the cutaneous lymphatics, lymphatic function and physiology, and imaging modalities used to define this intricate vascular system. To appreciate the clinical challenges associated with head and neck lymphatic dysfunction, we also provide an overview of disease processes of the cutaneous lymphatics and their treatment, theories on the etiology of lymphedema, and future directions to better understand lymphatic function and disease. Knowledge of the cutaneous lymphatics of the head and neck are critical to the clinical evaluation of patients, who present with this debilitating condition and to our understanding of its pathogenesis and appropriate management. Clin. Anat. 25:72–85, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.