Lymphedema is the accumulation of lymph fluid under the skin over a period. During breast cancer treatment, the surgeon might remove one or more lymph nodes along with the lymph vessels that carry fluid from the arm to other parts of the body. When lymph nodes and vessels are removed, it changes the way in which the lymph fluid flows in that area of the body making it difficult for fluid to flow out of the area near the chest, breast and arm. When the remaining lymph vessels are unable to drain the lymph away, it collects causing swelling or lymphedema. When lymph nodes are treated with radiation therapy, it can also cause lymphedema.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
The symptoms of lymphedema are:
- Swelling of arm, leg, including fingers and toes
- Feeling of heaviness or tightness in the arm or leg
- Limited range of motion in the affected limb
- Hardening or thickening of skin on arm and leg
Note: Contact your doctor if you notice any of these signs of lymphedema.
Sometimes complications can arise from lymphedema such as infections to the affected leg or arm.
Treatment of Lymphedema
Since there is no defined cure for lymphedema, the treatment focuses on reducing the swelling and minimizing pain. The treatments are:
- Exercises that require you to move your affected arm or leg.
- Wrapping affected arm or leg in bandages allowing the lymph fluid to flow back out of the affected limb.
- Massage may encourage the lymph fluid to flow out and away from the affected area.
- Compression garments including long sleeves or stockings to compress the arm or leg.