If you have had
lymph nodes removed or have had
radiation as part of cancer treatment, you can take
steps to avoid
lymphedema. If you already have lymphedema, you can
take steps to keep it from getting worse.
Lymphedema is fluid that builds
up, usually in an arm or leg. It is often caused by surgery to remove lymph
nodes during cancer treatment, especially
breast cancer surgery, which can cause fluid to build
up in the arm. It also can be caused by injury from a broken bone or surgery to
fix a broken bone. Some medicines also can cause lymphedema. Some people get it
for unknown reasons.
Lymphedema is often caused by:
Lymphedema is the buildup of fluid, often in
the arm or leg, that happens when lymph nodes in that area are removed or
Lymphedema can happen when cancer treatment
damages or removes lymph nodes. This happens most often with breast cancer, but
it can also happen with other cancers, such as cancer of the testicles,
cervical cancer, or skin cancer.
Continue to Why?
The buildup of
lymph fluid in an arm or leg can cause serious swelling and make it hard to use
that limb. It also makes the limb more likely to get infected.
need to work every day to help keep the fluid moving out of your arm or leg and
to protect that arm or leg from injury and infection. Even a small infection
can lead to serious lymphedema.
Lymphedema can occur a few days
after surgery, radiation, or other injury, but it more often happens 1 to 2
years later. But it can also happen as many as 30 years later, so taking steps
to prevent it or control it is a lifelong job.
If you have not had lymphedema within 6 months of
surgery, you will not need to worry about getting it.
Lymphedema may not show up until many years
Continue to How?
Learn to recognize symptoms of lymphedema so that you can get treatment right away. Symptoms include:
Do all you can to help keep the lymph fluid moving so that it doesn't collect in your arm or leg.
Do all you can to protect your arm or leg from injury and infection.
Follow your doctor's advice about wearing a special bandage or compression garment. These specially fitted stockings or sleeves are designed to help keep fluid from pooling in the leg or arm.
You can help prevent lymphedema by moisturizing your
Skin that is kept moisturized is less likely to
crack and become infected. Even a small infection can cause serious
Continue to Where?
Now that you have read this
information, you are ready to start working on preventing or managing
lymphedema every day.
If you have questions about
this information, take it with you and discuss it with your doctor. You may
want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have
If you would like more information on lymphedema, the
following resources are available:
The American Cancer Society (ACS) conducts educational
programs and offers many services to people with cancer and to their families.
Staff at the toll-free number have information about services and activities
in local areas and can provide referrals to local ACS divisions.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a U.S. government
agency that provides up-to-date information about the prevention, detection,
and treatment of cancer. NCI also offers supportive care to people who have cancer
and to their families. NCI information is also available to doctors, nurses,
and other health professionals. NCI provides the latest information about
clinical trials. The Cancer Information Service, a service of NCI, has trained
staff members available to answer questions and send free publications.
Spanish-speaking staff members are also available.
The National Lymphedema Network (NLN) provides education and
guidance to people with lymphedema, health professionals, and the general
public. The NLN provides information on the prevention and management of
primary and secondary lymphedema and supports research to find causes and
treatments for lymphedema.
You can find more information about lymphedema in this
Return to topic:
Other Works ConsultedNational Cancer Institute (2010). Lymphedema PDQ: Treatment—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema/healthprofessional.
June 28, 2011
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Douglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology
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