What Is a Lymphangiogram?
Lymph nodes play an important role in
the immune system. They help store white blood cells that fight infection. They
also trap cancer cells.
Lymph nodes are located
throughout your body. A network of lymph vessels connects them. These vessels
carry fluid containing white blood cells in and out of the lymph nodes. This
fluid is called lymph.
Lymph nodes and lymph vessels don’t
normally show up on an X-ray. You need a special procedure called a
lymphangiogram to see them.
Why Doctors Perform a Lymphangiogram
If you have cancer, your healthcare
provider may use a lymphangiogram to see whether the cancer has spread to other
parts of your body.
You’ll probably also need a lymph node
biopsy. Your doctor will remove either an entire lymph node or a small sample
to check for cancer cells.
Not all lymphangiograms are related to
cancer. Your doctor may perform one to diagnose swelling in your arm or leg.
The procedure may also be used to diagnose parasitic diseases, such as
Preparing for a Lymphangiogram
Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant.
The radiation from X-rays may be more problematic for pregnant women. Also, be
sure to tell your doctor if you’ve ever had:
- allergic reactions to substances containing
- allergic reactions to X-ray dye (contrast
- bleeding problems
Your doctor may ask you to fast for
several hours before the test. Your doctor will provide specific instructions.
The Lymphangiogram Procedure
You’ll sit down, and the person
performing the procedure will clean your feet. A blue dye called contrast will
be injected into the webbing between the first and second toes on each foot.
This is not the actual test. It’s just used to locate your lymph channels.
After a few minutes, the dye will turn your lymph channels blue.
Your doctor will select one of the larger
lymph channels and numb the area. They’ll make a small cut and then insert a
tube into the channel. The process will be repeated on the other foot. Once
both tubes are in place, more contrast dye will be slowly injected.
Unlike the lymphatic system itself,
the dye is visible on X-ray images. Your doctor can use X-rays to follow the
path of the dye throughout your lymphatic system. This can help detect
blockages or swollen lymph nodes.
You may need to return the day after
your procedure for more X-rays.
After Your Lymphangiogram
You will typically receive stitches to
close the cuts on each foot. You can expect to feel some pain and soreness in
Don’t be alarmed if your skin appears
blue for a day or two after the procedure. This is normal. It’s also normal for
your vision to turn blue for about two days. Your urine and stool will be
discolored as well.
Risks of the Test
Any time you have an X-ray, you
receive some low-level radiation exposure. These levels of radiation are
generally considered safe. Radiation may be more problematic for children and
pregnant women. Even so, the risk of damage to the fetus during an X-ray is
There are also risks associated with
the dye used in the procedure. It can sometimes cause:
- allergic reaction
- lymph vessel inflammation
What Do Abnormal Lymphangiogram Results
Abnormal results mean that a lymph
vessel is blocked or a node is swollen. This could be caused by cancer,
infection, injury, or previous lymphatic surgery.
Don’t try to interpret your results on
your own. Talk to your doctor. Abnormal results may have many causes and not
all of them are scary.