Understanding the anatomy of lymphatic drainage and the use of blue-dye mapping to determine the extent of lymphadenectomy in rectal cancer surgery: Unresolved issues

Stephen W. Bell, Junko Sasaki, G. Sinclair, Pierre H Chapuis, E. L. Bokey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: This paper reviews the literature on the pathways of lymphatic drainage of the rectum and their significance in radical cancer surgery. Method: This paper reviews some of the seminal works on the lymphatic drainage of the rectum and its surgical implications when operating on patients with rectal cancer. Publications were searched via Medline, sourced from reference lists and by cross referencing with the most widely cited papers. Results: The classical European description of the anatomy of the lymphatic drainage of the rectum is presented. Early lymphatic mapping techniques and the role of newer technologies in lymphatic mapping, including sentinel lymph node mapping are discussed. The differing philosophies between Western practice, of dissection in the plane of the fascia propria and the Japanese wider pelvic lymphadenectomy are discussed. Conclusions: A clear understanding of the regional lymphatic drainage of the rectum and precise anatomical mobilisation of the rectum is the surgical cornerstone to excellent locoregional control of rectal cancer. The success of the differing Western and Japanese philosophies on the degree of pelvic lymphadenectomy suggests a possible role for 'selective wide pelvic lymphadectomy'. Mapping lateral lymphatic drainage pathways could augment the selection process for radiotherapy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-449
Number of pages7
JournalColorectal Disease
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Anatomy of rectal lymphatics
  • Blue-dye mapping
  • Lymphadenectomy
  • Rectal cancer

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