Lower limb lymphedema staging based on magnetic resonance lymphangiography

Shigeyoshi Soga, Fumio Onishi, Ayako Mikoshi, Shigeo Okuda, Masahiro Jinzaki, Hiroshi Shinmoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Dermal backflow (DBF) and reduced lymphatic visualization are common findings of lymphedema on various imaging modalities. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how these findings vary with the anatomic location and severity of lymphedema, and previous reports using indocyanine green lymphography or lymphoscintigraphy show variable results. Magnetic resonance lymphangiography (MRL) is expected to clarify this clinical question due to its superior ability for lymphatic visualization. This retrospective study aimed to investigate the following: (1) Are there any characteristic patterns for DBF and lymphatics' visualization, depending on the anatomic location within lower limbs and severity of lymphedema? (2) Is it possible to classify the severity of lymphedema based on MRL findings? Methods: Two radiologists performed consensus readings of MRL of 56 patients (112 limbs) with lower-limb lymphedema. The frequency of visualized DBF and lymphatics was analyzed in six regions in each lower limb. The results were compared with the International Society of Lymphology clinical stages and etiology of lymphedema. Characteristic findings were categorized and compared with the clinical stage and duration of lymphedema. Results: DBF and lymphatics were observed more frequently in the distal regions than the proximal regions of lower limbs. DBF appeared more frequently as the clinical stage increased, reaching statistical significance (P < 10−3) between stages 0 or I and II. DBF above the knee joint was rarely observed (0.48%) in early stages (0 and I) but appeared more frequently (13.5%, P < 10−5) in stage II. Lymphatics appeared less frequently as the stage progressed, with significant differences (P <.05) between stages I and II and between II and III. The frequency of lymphatics above the knee joint decreased significantly (P <.05) between stages I and II and between II and III as the stage progressed, reaching 0% in stage III. An MRL staging was proposed and showed significant positive correlations with the clinical stage (r = 0.79, P <.01) and the duration of lymphedema (r = 0.57, P <.01). Conclusions: MRL-specific patterns of DBF and lymphatics that depended on the site within the lower limb and clinical stage were shown. The DBF pattern differed from those observed in previous studies with other imaging techniques. The proposed MRL staging based on these characteristic findings allows new stratification of patients with lymphedema. Combined with its excellent ability to visualize lymphatic anatomy, MRL could enable a more detailed understanding of individual patient's pathology, useful for determining the most appropriate treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-453.e3
JournalJournal of Vascular Surgery: Venous and Lymphatic Disorders
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Mar


  • Indocyanine green
  • Lymphedema
  • Lymphography
  • Lymphoscintigraphy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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