Can Cancer Cause Lymphedema?

Cancer Patient

Yes, cancer and its treatments can cause a condition known as lymphedema. Lymphedema is the swelling that occurs when lymphatic fluid accumulates in the tissues, usually in an arm or leg, due to damage or blockage in the lymphatic system.

Lymphedema often occurs as a result of:

  • Lymph Node Removal: Surgical procedures to remove lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment, particularly in breast cancer, melanoma, gynecologic cancers, or some types of head and neck cancers, can disrupt the normal flow of lymphatic fluid and lead to lymphedema.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation treatment targeted at the lymph nodes or near lymphatic pathways can damage or scar the lymphatic vessels, leading to impaired drainage of lymphatic fluid and subsequent swelling.
  • Cancer Spread: In some cases, cancer itself can block lymphatic vessels or nodes, leading to lymphedema. This might occur when the cancer spreads (metastasizes) to lymph nodes or tissues near the lymphatic system.

Lymphedema can develop months or even years after cancer treatment. It can cause swelling, heaviness, discomfort, limited range of motion, and an increased risk of infections in the affected limb.

Preventive measures and management strategies can help reduce the risk and alleviate symptoms of lymphedema for individuals undergoing cancer treatment. These strategies might include:

  • Gentle exercises and movements to promote lymphatic drainage
  • Proper skincare and hygiene to prevent infections
  • Compression garments or bandaging to reduce swelling
  • Manual lymphatic drainage techniques
  • Avoiding injury or trauma to the affected limb

It’s important for individuals undergoing cancer treatment, particularly those at risk for lymphedema due to surgery or radiation, to discuss preventive measures and receive guidance from healthcare professionals or specialized therapists experienced in managing lymphedema. Early identification and appropriate management can help individuals effectively cope with lymphedema and minimize its impact on their quality of life.

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