Lymphedema – Causes and Control

Every one knows this is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but we have many clients who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer and are working diligently to make others aware. Another topic we need to be aware of is Lymphedema after Breast Cancer Therapy, but wait, Lymphedema can be caused by any change in the lymphatic system. During surgery for cancer, physicians may take out lymph nodes near the tumor to see if the cancer has spread. The lymph nodes are collectors of lymph (a clear fluid which contains proteins, salts, and water, as well as white blood cells, which help fight infections) and removing them makes it harder for lymph to move to areas where it enters the blood stream. If the remaining lymph vessels cannot remove enough of the lymph in an area, the excess fluid builds up in the fatty tissues just under the skin and causes swelling most often in the arms or legs. Radiation treatment can also affect the lymph flow by causing scarring of the vessels. The lymph fluid that collects in the skin and underlying tissues can be very uncomfortable. Lymphedema usually develops slowly and may be mild to severe. It can keep nutrients from reaching the cells, interfere with wound healing, and lead to infections.An example of Lymphedema from

Early on, the swelling may be relieved by raising the affected limb and the skin usually stays soft. But over time, the swollen area may become hot and red and the skin hard and stiff.

Lymphedema garments are necessary after reduction of swelling

Lymphedema Garments are Necessary After Reduction of Swelling

If you think you are developing Lymphedema, get to a MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) Therapist as soon a possible!! Your extremity may need to be wrapped in bandages to reduce the swelling and the therapist will do special massages to open up the lymphatic vessels remaining so the lymph will drain. Once the therapist has achieved results, the therapist will recommend compression garments (armsleeve, glove, or gauntlet for the arms and stockings – usually 20-30 mmHg or 30-40 mmHg for the legs).

Caresia Bandage Liners from

Caresia Bandage Liners from

Sometimes you will find you need to go back into bandages at night for a “tune-up” to maintain the control you have achieved over Lymphedema. We have a simplified solution to the bandages
Caresia by Solaris (used to replace multi-layered bandaging during the active phase of therapy and transition to a night time garment).

I would like to leave with this thought; if you are at risk for Lymphedema, wear your compression garments!! If Lymphedema does develop, get to a MLD therapist immediately. Lymphedema will never go away, but with a good MLD Therapist and following a good program of skin care, massage, and compression garments, it can be controllable.


8 Responses

  1. Thanks for jogging my use of my stockings. I stopped during the hot weather and haven’t had any swelling in my legs, but will start up again just to be on the safe said. During cooler weather I really liked wearing the compression stockings. I have a good supply, but keep me on your list! Many thanks.

  2. This is the most insightful, easy to understand description of lymphedema I have read. Thank you very much for sharing this information. I have this condition in my left arm/hand (breast cancer) and in my right leg/hip/foot (don’t know cause).

    • Hello Dee,
      Thank you for sharing. Have you had some surgery on that right side or been in an auto accident? Remember lymphedema can develop up to 20 years after an injury.

  3. I have had idiopathic edema since having an allergic reaction to a medication in 1960 that was treated with diuretics. A patient of my endo came in with suddenly thin legs and told her about the massage. You would not believe how unknown this therapy is. I was glad to see this blog, hope it will bring information to many people. I lost 27 pounds with the massage, another 5 as I continued the therapy at home. I had already been prescribed compression stockings and my therapist advised me to go into thigh highs to avoid the heavy swelling I was getting in my knees with the knee high stockings. I met a woman in therapist’s parking lot who showed me legs like tree trunks. She did not like wearing the stockings and the edema kept coming back. Getting the massage is an emotional life saver; wearing the stockings is the follow up therapy.

  4. Thank you so much for this information. I think I have lymphodema in the inside tops of my legs following vein surgury. I have been to several doctors and they think because I am overweight my legs are just fat there. They just dont take the time to really examine me. I couldn’t find out what kind of doctor I needed to see because nobody took my problem seriously. Thank you so much for your very very helpful information. The surgeon that did my vein surgury told me my legs would swell there and it would take about 6 months for the swelling to go away. It has been 3 years and they are still very swollen and he has amnesia about it. lol

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