Surgery of the Hemolymphatic System

Chapter 24

Surgery of the Hemolymphatic System

Surgery of the Lymphatic System

General Principles and Techniques

Preoperative Management

Lymphadenomegaly is one of the more common lymphatic abnormalities of dogs and cats and may be caused by infection, inflammation, neoplasia (metastatic or primary), or systemic disease. It is important to distinguish generalized lymphadenomegaly from localized (regional) disease. With localized lymphadenopathy, areas drained by the node should be examined for evidence of infection, inflammation, or neoplasia. Conversely, one must remember that lymph node size does not necessarily correlate with disease, and neoplastic cells may be retrieved from normal-sized lymph nodes. Although cytology of lymph node and splenic aspirates is very specific for neoplastic and fungal diseases (i.e., you can trust the diagnosis if you find such cells), it is not sensitive (i.e., not finding cancer or organisms never eliminates such disease because fine-needle aspirates of lymph nodes and spleens can easily miss the cells or organisms). Nonetheless, fine-needle aspirates and/or fine-needle core biopsies should be done before lymph node and sometimes splenic biopsy, because finding neoplasia or fungal elements by these less invasive techniques will make more invasive techniques unnecessary. The reader is referred to a medicinal text for an in-depth discussion of lymph node cytology.

The mandibular, superficial cervical (prescapular), superficial inguinal, and popliteal lymph nodes are palpable in most animals (Fig. 24-1). The tonsils may be visualized in the oral cavity, and facial lymph nodes may be found in some normal animals. In dogs, the maxillary, accessory axillary, cervical, femoral, and retropharyngeal lymph nodes usually are palpable only when enlarged; however, the axillary node may be located readily in cats, even when it is only moderately enlarged. Unless the animal is extremely thin or cachectic, sublumbar and mesenteric lymph nodes must be at least moderately enlarged to be detected on rectal or abdominal palpation. The texture of the enlarged node and sensitivity to pressure or manipulation should be noted. Acute enlargement (i.e., suppurative lymphadenitis) can be associated with pain, but lymphoid neoplasia usually causes painless enlargement. Metastatic neoplasia and fungal infections sometimes cause nodes to become fixed to surrounding tissue. Clinical signs may result from lymphadenomegaly (e.g., coughing caused by tracheal compression by enlarged hilar lymph nodes, constipation resulting from sublumbar lymphadenopathy).

Lymphangiomas are rare, benign neoplasms originating from lymphatic capillaries. They are believed to be developmental anomalies associated with failure of primitive lymphatic sacs to establish venous communication. These endothelial sprouts continue to grow, infiltrate surrounding tissue, cause pressure and subsequent necrosis, and form cystic structures. They typically manifest as large, fluctuant swellings that are noticed incidentally or because of interference with normal structures as a result of expansive growth. They have been identified arising from subcutaneous tissue, the nasopharynx, and the retroperitoneal space of dogs and in the liver and the mediastinum in cats. Affected dogs usually are middle-aged or older; however, lymphangiomas may occur in young dogs. In a recent study of vascular tumors in 420 dogs, only one lymphangioma was observed (Gamlem et al, 2008). Treatment for lymphangioma consists of complete surgical excision or marsupialization. A lymphangiomatous mass arising from the right palatine tonsil was removed without complications or evidence of recurrence in an 8-year-old female dog (Miller et al, 2008). Lymphangiosarcomas (Fig. 24-2) are malignant tumors that arise from lymphatic capillaries. They are locally aggressive, and metastasis to regional lymph nodes, lungs, spleen, kidneys, and bone marrow has been reported. Even without metastasis, the local invasiveness of this tumor often necessitates euthanasia. Surgical resection may be considered; however, cure is unlikely. These tumors have been reported most often in medium- to large-breed dogs. They may occur in young dogs; however, most affected dogs are middle-aged or older. Diagnosis may be made by histopathology, electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, tissue culture, and/or endothelial expression of glycoconjugates (Williams, 2005). Histologically, lymphangiomas and lymphangiosarcomas are composed of vascular spaces lined by endothelial cells and focal lymphoid aggregates divided by connective tissue stroma. Unlike hemangiomas, the cystic spaces of these tumors are not filled with blood.

Diagnostic Imaging

Survey radiographs may detect internal lymphadenomegaly. Thoracic films should be examined for evidence of mediastinal, hilar, and sternal lymphadenomegaly; abdominal radiographs may reveal ventral deviation of the descending colon caused by sublumbar lymphadenomegaly or ill-defined mass effects in the mid-abdomen caused by mesenteric lymphadenopathy.

Ultrasound is useful in detecting mesenteric, gastric, and hepatic lymphadenomegaly. Parameters that can be evaluated using ultrasound include lymph node size and margins, echotexture and echogenicity, presence and distribution of vascular flow, vascular flow indices, and acoustic transmission. The most diagnostically helpful parameters include the short/long axis ratio of the lymph node, the pattern of distribution of the blood vessels within the lymph node, and to some extent the resistive and pulsatility indices (Nyman and O’Brien, 2007).

Surgical Technique

Lymph node biopsy is easy and relatively inexpensive, and it provides valuable information. No absolute contraindications to lymph node biopsy are known. Significant hemostatic disorders should be corrected preoperatively if possible, and care must be taken to ligate blood vessels properly.

Selection of a lymph node for a biopsy is based on clinical findings. With generalized lymphadenopathy, the popliteal, inguinal, and prescapular lymph nodes are the preferred sites; a biopsy should be obtained from at least two nodes. Mandibular lymph nodes and nodes draining the gastrointestinal tract are undesirable because their morphologic appearance often is distorted by reactive hyperplasia caused by constant antigenic exposure.

Fine-Needle Aspiration

Two main techniques may be used. The first is to attach a 23- to 25-gauge needle to a 6- or 12-ml syringe. Insert the needle into the lymph node and briefly pull back the plunger to 5 or 10 ml of negative pressure several times (stop if blood is seen in the hub of the needle). Then blow the contents of the barrel of the needle out onto a clean glass slide. Make both horizontal and vertical pull-apart preparations.

The second technique is to stick a 23- to 25-gauge needle repeatedly through a lymph node. Then attach the needle to a syringe filled with 5 ml of air, and blow the contents out onto a clean glass slide. The second technique is less likely to involve blood contamination and should be done if the first technique is unsuccessful. It is also the preferred technique for aspiration of splenic masses.

Both techniques may have to be modified, depending on the patient and the tissue. Some lymphosarcomas have very fragile cells that will readily rupture. Being less aggressive in aspirating or passing a needle through the node and/or being more gentle and careful in making the cytology smear may allow one to obtain a diagnostic smear with a 20 gauge needle.

Specific Diseases


General Considerations and Clinically Relevant Pathophysiology

Lymphedema results from a disturbance of the equilibrium between the amount of fluid in the interstitial space that needs to be cleared (capillary filtrate) and the capacity of the lymphatic and venous systems to remove this fluid. Possible causes include (1) overload of the lymphatic system, (2) inadequate collection by the lymphatic terminal buds, (3) abnormal lymphatic contractility, (4) insufficient lymphatics, (5) lymph node obstruction, and (6) central vessel (i.e., thoracic duct) defects. Regardless of the cause, edema results when capillary filtration exceeds the combined resorptive capabilities of the venous and lymphatic systems. This edema is relatively protein rich (2 to 5 g/dl). Because of the resultant high osmotic pressure, additional fluid is pulled into the interstitial space, worsening the edema. If the lymphatic system cannot adequately drain this interstitial fluid, collagen deposition and fibrosis may result. Hence, although the early stages are reversible, chronic edema is associated with thickening and fibrosis of tissue, making treatment difficult. The domestic species most commonly reported to have lymphedema is the dog.

Lymphedema may be a result of a primary defect in the lymphatic system or may occur secondary to other diseases or surgical procedures. Distinguishing between primary and secondary lymphedema often is difficult. Lymph node obstruction, although more commonly associated with secondary lymphedema, has been associated with primary lymphedema. Many of the dogs reported with primary lymphedema have had small or absent lymph nodes. Perhaps the initial defect in some dogs with lymphedema is fibrosis of the lymph nodes, which leads to secondary obstructive changes in the lymphatic vessels. As the vessels dilate, they lose contractility, and the lymphatic valves become permanently nonfunctional. Secondary lymphedema may be caused by conditions that increase the rate of interstitial fluid formation as a result of altered capillary permeability (e.g., trauma, heat, irradiation, infection). Venous congestion (i.e., because of heart failure) may also cause lymphedema by reducing fluid resorption. Secondary lymphedema can result from neoplasia or infiltration of lymph nodes by filaria, such as Wuchereria bancrofti and Brugia timori, and from lymphoproliferative disorders. Secondary malignant lymphedema was recently reported after mastectomy in two dogs (Kang et al, 2007). Both dogs had large edematous lesions associated with lameness in the right hindlimb following surgery. Obstruction of lymph flow in the lymphatics of the right hindlimbs was shown with lymphangiography in one dog and lymphoscintigraphy in the other dog.


Clinical Presentation

Differential Diagnosis

The key differential diagnosis is abnormality of the venous system, such as venous stasis or arteriovenous fistula. The clinical signs usually are adequate to differentiate lymphedema from edema caused by venous obstruction. Typical changes with edema caused by venous obstruction include varices, stasis hyperpigmentation, and cutaneous ulceration. Arteriovenous fistulae are vascular abnormalities in which a direct communication exists between an adjacent artery and vein. They may be congenital or acquired (e.g., after trauma, neoplasia, infection, or iatrogenic ligation of an artery and vein together). Clinical signs with arteriovenous fistulae vary depending on the location; however, palpation of strong pulsatile vessels, often of a fremitus or thrill, and auscultation of a machinery murmur (i.e., bruit) are classic findings. Angiography is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and determine the size, extent, and location of the fistula. The physical examination should eliminate systemic causes of bilateral edema, including heart failure, renal failure, cirrhosis, and hypoproteinemia. Other differential diagnoses include trauma, neoplasia, and foreign bodies.

Medical Management

In the early stages of lymphedema, before the development of fibrosis, nonsurgical therapy may reduce the swelling and make the patient more comfortable. Nonsurgical therapy consists of heavy bandages or splints that exert pressure on the limb, meticulous care of the skin to prevent infection, weight control, and appropriate use of antibiotics to treat and prevent cellulitis and lymphangitis. Drugs that have been used to treat human patients with lymphedema include steroids, diuretics, anticoagulants, and fibrinolysin inhibitors. For the most part, the proposed benefits of these pharmaceuticals have not been substantiated. Long-term treatment of lymphedema with diuretics is contraindicated. Diuretics act by removing fluid from the tissue; proteins that are not reabsorbed become increasingly concentrated, further damaging tissues.

The benzopyrones are a group of drugs that have been used to successfully treat experimental lymphedema in dogs and spontaneous lymphedema in human beings. All the drugs in this group appear to reduce high-protein edema. Their main action appears to be stimulation of macrophages, which promotes proteolysis. Protein fragments can then be reabsorbed into the blood. These drugs are active orally and topically, are inexpensive, and are relatively free of side effects. Included in this category of drugs are coumarin (5,6 benzo-[a]-pyrone), O-(β-hydroxy-ethyl)-rutosides, diosmin, and rutin. Recommended dosages for human beings are 440 mg/day of coumarin and 3 g/day of rutosides, diosmin, and rutin (Box 24-1). Although these drugs (e.g., rutin) are being investigated for spontaneous lymphedema in dogs, their efficacy currently is uncertain.

Lymphography and Lymphoscintigraphy

The classic diagnostic tool has been direct lymphography (lymphangiography) (see p. 691 for a description of the technique). Oil-based contrast media are contraindicated in patients with primary lymphedema because the high volume of contrast medium necessary to visualize the lymphatics and the propensity for extravasation may further damage existing lymphatics. Lymphoscintigraphy, an alternative method of imaging the peripheral lymphatics, involves intradermal injection of high molecular weight, radiolabeled colloids. A gamma camera is used to obtain images of the affected limb over time to observe the progression of radioactivity through the lymphatics. Primary lymphedema typically shows slow absorption of the radiopharmaceutical, reduced visualization of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes, and no interstitial activity. Secondary lymphedema typically shows poorly visualized primary lymph vessels and dilated secondary lymph vessels. Significant interstitial activity is also noted.

Surgical Treatment

Except for amputation, no current surgical treatment offers a cure for lymphedema. Numerous therapies have been described in human patients, including lymphangioplasty, bridging procedures, lymphaticovenous shunts, omental transposition, superficial to deep anastomosis, and excision (with or without skin grafting). These techniques have not been adequately evaluated in dogs with spontaneous lymphedema. Lymphangiography rarely provides information that helps in management of animals with spontaneous lymphedema, but it occasionally defines the underlying lymphatic abnormality (i.e., hypoplasia, aplasia, or hyperplasia of lymphatics). It is a tool that must be correlated with other historical and physical findings. Biopsy samples of affected tissues should be submitted because lymphangiosarcoma, a highly malignant neoplasm, has been reported to occur in human beings with long-standing lymphedema. The technique for lymphangiography is described on p. 691.

Surgical Anatomy

The lymphatic system of the extremities can be divided into two parts: superficial and deep (i.e., muscular) lymphatics. The superficial system appears to be the one most commonly involved in lymphedema. This is the system of lymphatics observed during pedal lymphangiography (Fig. 24-6). These lymphatics empty into a valved group of vessels found at the junction of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Lymph then drains into afferent lymphatics in the subcutaneous fat. The superficial lymphatics of the pelvic limb consist of a larger medial group and a smaller lateral group. Lymphatics follow the branches of the medial saphenous vein and drain into the superficial inguinal lymph nodes. Efferent lymphatics from the lymph nodes drain into the larger lymphatic ducts. The deeper lymphatics drain the fascial planes surrounding skeletal muscles (lymphatics are not found in skeletal muscle bundles), joints, and synovium. Deep lymphatic collector vessels accompany the main blood vessels of the extremities. Controversy continues as to whether the two lymphatic systems (superficial and deep) communicate; however, communications usually appear to be a result of a lymphatic pathologic condition or a response to abnormal lymph flow. The lumbar lymph trunks receive vessels from the pelvic limbs, the abdominal lymph nodes, and the intestines before uniting to form the cisterna chyli.

Surgical Technique

Direct Lymphangiography

Make a 5-cm skin incision over the mid-dorsomedial metatarsal region. Use sharp and blunt dissection until a blue-stained, superficial metatarsal lymphatic vessel is identified (Fig. 24-7). Meticulously dissect the lymphatic free from surrounding tissue with fine, blunt dissection probes, and cannulate the lymphatic using a lymph duct cannulator or a 27 or 30 gauge over-the-needle catheter. Inject a small amount of sterile saline into the catheter or cannulator to verify patency. Then manually infuse an aqueous-based radiographic contrast agent into the lymphatic vessel. Take radiographs immediately after the injection (Fig. 24-8); additional radiographs may be taken, depending on the rate of lymphatic transport of the contrast agent, which varies from patient to patient. Upon completion of the lymphangiogram, withdraw the cannulator, ligate the lymphatic vessel, and close the incision in a routine fashion.

Sep 11, 2016 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Surgery of the Hemolymphatic System
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