Care for Lymphedema
Lymphedema is the build-up of fluid in soft body tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked. It occurs when the lymph system is damaged or blocked. Fluid builds up in soft body tissues and causes swelling. It is a common problem that may be caused by cancer and cancer treatment.
It usually affects an arm or leg, but it can also affect other parts of the body, including the face, abdomen or pelvic region. Lymphedema can cause long-term physical, psychological and social problems for patients.
Secondary lymphedema usually arises following surgery or radiation therapy.
Possible signs of lymphedema include swelling of the arms or legs.
A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
- Swelling of an arm or leg, which may include fingers and toes.
- A full or heavy feeling in an arm or leg.
- A tight feeling in the skin.
- Trouble moving a joint in the arm or leg.
- Thickening of the skin, with or without skin changes such as blisters or warts.
- A feeling of tightness when wearing clothing, shoes, bracelets, watches, or rings.
- Itching of the legs or toes.
- A burning feeling in the legs.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Loss of hair.
These symptoms may occur very slowly over time or more quickly if there is an infection or injury to the arm or leg.
Cancer and its treatment are risk factors for lymphedema.
Lymphedema can occur after any cancer or treatment that affects the flow of lymph through the lymph nodes, such as removal of lymph nodes. It may develop within days or many years after treatment. Most lymphedema develops within three years of surgery. Risk factors for lymphedema include the following:
- Removal and/or radiation of lymph nodes in the underarm, groin, pelvis, or neck. The risk of lymphedema increases with the number of lymph nodes affected. There is less risk with the removal of only the sentinel lymph node (the first lymph node to receive lymphatic drainage from a tumor).
- Being overweight or obese.
- Slow healing of the skin after surgery.
- A tumor that affects or blocks the left lymph duct or lymph nodes or vessels in the neck, chest, underarm, pelvis, or abdomen.
- Scar tissue in the lymph ducts under the collarbones, caused by surgery or radiation therapy.
Lymphedema often occurs in breast cancer patients who had all or part of their breast removed and axillary (underarm) lymph nodes removed. Lymphedema in the legs may occur after surgery for uterine cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, or melanoma. It may also occur with vulvar cancer or ovarian cancer.
We can help
Our team of manual lymphedema therapists provide treatment for the condition arising from breast cancer, head/neck/throat cancer, bladder cancer or any type of cancer that involves the removal and/or radiation of lymph nodes. For more information, please call our Outpatient Therapy Department at (606) 408-0420.