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Lymphedema after cancer: causes, symptoms, and treatment

A cancer nurse who is ready to help cancer patients suffering with lymphedema.

Lymphedema is a side effect that cancer survivors may experience after treatment. It is a condition in which lymphatic fluid builds up in the tissues, causing swelling and discomfort. Lymphedema can occur in any part of the body, but it is most common in the arms or legs. In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for lymphedema after cancer.


Lymphedema occurs when lymph nodes and vessels are damaged or removed during cancer treatment, such as surgery or radiation therapy. This can cause a blockage in the lymphatic system, leading to fluid buildup and swelling. Other factors that can increase the risk of developing lymphedema include obesity, infection, and blood clots.


The most common symptom of lymphedema is swelling in the affected area, which may be accompanied by a feeling of heaviness, tightness, or discomfort. Other symptoms include:

  • Skin tightness or thickening

  • Limited range of motion

  • Aching or discomfort

  • Infection or skin ulcers


There are several treatment options available for lymphedema after cancer. These include:

  • Compression therapy: Wearing compression garments or bandages can help reduce swelling and improve lymphatic flow.

  • Manual lymphatic drainage: This is a massage technique that stimulates lymphatic flow and reduces swelling.

  • Exercise: Gentle exercises, such as walking or swimming, can help improve lymphatic flow and reduce swelling.

  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove excess tissue and improve lymphatic flow.


There are several steps that cancer survivors can take to prevent lymphedema, including:

  • Avoiding injuries or infections in the affected area

  • Keeping the affected limb elevated when sitting or lying down

  • Avoiding tight clothing or jewelry that can restrict lymphatic flow

  • Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly

In conclusion, lymphedema is a common side effect of cancer treatment that can cause discomfort and affect a patient's quality of life. However, with proper management and care, the symptoms of lymphedema can be controlled. If you are experiencing swelling or discomfort after cancer treatment, talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options.


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