Lymphangiomas are generally described as uncommon, hamartomatous malformations of the lymphatic system. Based on depth and size of the lymph vessels, classifications include lymphangioma circumscriptum (most superficial), cavernous lymphangioma and cystic hygroma (most deep). Further subdivisions derive from perceived cause. Congenital lymphangiomas are thought to result from fetal lymph vessels that failed to involute and/or failed to join with the central lymphatic system. On the contrary, acquired lymphangiomas may result from trauma, certain infections (cellulitis, neoplastic disease, tuberculosis, filariasis), radiotherapy, pregnancy, scleroderma, severe phimosis or STDs .
Although the causes of these various types of lymphangioma may differ, the clinical presentation is often similar. The majority of the penile lymphangiomas present as asymptomatic, fluid-filled, translucent lesions or vesicles most commonly on the shaft or coronal sulcus of the penis. Symptomatic lesions, on the other hand, typically focus on sexual dysfunction. One case of acquired lymphangioma presented with severe phimosis and inability to produce an erection . Also, one case of lymphangioma circumscriptum caused recurrent infection, intermittent drainage and sexual inactivity . Given the similarities in clinical presentation, a proper diagnosis becomes contingent on a thorough history and physical examination in the case of lymphangioma of the penis. To that end, clinicians seeking to properly diagnose and treat lymphangiomas of the penis must effectively rule out certain infectious diseases such as molluscum contagiosum and gonorrhea . This is generally possible following a thorough history and physical examination alone. However, in some rare cases, a biopsy with accompanying pathology report or an infectious disease workup may be necessary. Dermatology consultation may be selected for unclear cases. Interestingly, Errichetti et al. recently elucidated the potential role of dermoscopy in the diagnosis of penile lymphangioma by describing the presence of “yellowish-reddish, well-demarcated, round or oval lacunae surrounded by whitish areas or lines,” which may be common characteristics of lymphangiomas [4, 20]. This observation warrants further investigation into the utility of dermoscopy as a quick, non-invasive method of definitively diagnosing lymphangiomas.
Many authors may argue that lymphangiomas of the penis do not always require treatment, given the mostly asymptomatic nature of these lesions. However, patients may request intervention for cosmetic reasons. Of the 18 acquired lymphangiomas reported in Table 1 (including the present case), 9 were treated by surgical excision [2, 5, 9, 10, 21,22,23] – only one of which recurred 11 months following surgery . And, one case reported an electrofulguration (or electrocautery) of the visible papulo-vesicles on the penis . Shi et al. found that the acquired lymphangioma of the penis was amenable to 2940-nm Erbium-doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet laser once every 2–3 weeks, wherein the lesions disappeared after the fourth session with no evidence of recurrence, dyspigmentation or paresthesia . Bardazzi et al. utilized high-frequency electric currents, called diathermy, to successfully obliterate the acquired lymphangioma without evidence of recurrence . On the other hand, Zhang et al. advocated for a “watch and wait” policy that interestingly allowed the lesions to self-heal within three weeks time . Lymphangiomas that develop following circumcision may spontaneously resolve. Abstinence from treatment was observed in two patients, one of whom opted for protecting the lesions from mechanical trauma and applying a silver sulfadiazine cream to any ruptured lesions [19, 26]. This management decreased the number of existing lesions and prevented new lesions. Finally, one patient was waiting for surgery to correct phimosis; no follow-up information was provided . Neither treatment nor follow-up was documented in the remaining two cases [8, 11].
Of the 3 cavernous lymphangiomas reported in Table 1, one underwent circumcision with no sign of recurrence following the treatment . The other two cases failed to specify treatment . Of the 8 cases of lymphangioma circumscriptum of the penis, 3 underwent surgical resection successfully with no signs of recurrence [18, 27, 28]. Another patient with lymphangioma circumscriptum (Table 1) underwent 3 surgeries with recurrence every time. For the fourth operation the physicians adopted a more radical surgical approach, in which the penile shaft was denuded and buried in the scrotum . Six months later, the penile shaft was raised, and the skin was reconstructed using a scrotal graft. The outcome of this procedure was favorable with the only noteworthy complication of growth of transposed hair, treated cosmetically. Of the remaining 4 lymphangioma circumscriptum cases shown in Table 1, treatment was denied for 1, and the remaining 3 had no information on treatment or outcome [12,13,14, 29].