After breast cancer surgery, lymphedema most frequently occurs in the arm. Cancer cells spread through the lymph vessels into the lymph nodes first. Many women have at least 1-3 lymph nodes removed from under the arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy) or sometimes even more (axillary lymph node dissection). Radiation therapy is often part of the cancer therapy and can destroy the lymphatic system.
Edema of the chest and chest wall
After such surgical procedures and therapies, edema can develop at your chest/breast and at the chest wall. Unlike the limbs, the breast does not have a muscle pump. Therefore, drainage in this area is more difficult. Swelling often occurs around the affected breast, the chest wall, under the armpit, and at the back. The swollen areas may feel hot, painful, hard, and heavy. In such cases, you can use special compression garments or small foam pads for the breast and upper body that soften the fibrosis and support the lymph drainage.
Edema of the head and neck
After surgery and/or radiotherapy, lymphedema can develop on certain areas of the head or neck. If lymph fluid tries to drain from the treated area through the neck but the lymph vessels are damaged, swelling may occur. These side effects are common after treatment for tumors in the head or neck area.
Swelling most commonly occurs in the following areas in the head and neck:
- Eye sockets
- Contour of the jaw
- Front or rear ear area
- Below the chin
Compression therapy supports the treatment of head and neck edema. Specially developed solutions for the different parts of the face, e.g., face masks and neck pads, or lymphatic tape support the lymph drainage.
Swelling of the head and neck can be very stressful. If you are affected in this way, you may feel that you want to avoid being in the public and prefer to isolate yourself. In such a situation, it’s important to put your trust in a Health Care Professional (HCP) who can help you get appropriate treatment.
Edema of the genitals
Swelling of the genitals is a possible side effect of pelvic surgery or radiotherapy in both women and men. These types of therapies are used to treat tumors of the genital region, such as the prostate, bladder, testicles, penis, cervix, ovaries, vulva, or rectum. Infections, including sexually transmitted diseases, can also damage the lymphatic system. Genital lymphedema may also develop as primary lymphedema.
A typical symptom is painful swelling of the genital area. Sexual dysfunction and trouble with urination can occur as well. Swelling of the genitals is a very personal and sensitive issue. Walking and buying clothes can be very difficult and your intimate relationships might be affected as well. Manual lymph drainage (MLD) and compression therapy with specially designed garments and pads can improve your symptoms.
Special exercises can promote drainage, and also skin hygiene is part of the Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT). In general, staying active is important, although this is much more challenging in genital lymphedema. Consult your HCP for appropriate measurements.
Don’t wait to get help
With all forms of lymphedema, early treatment improves the prognosis. Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is an effective way to treat lymphedema. It consists of skin care, Lymphatic Drainage, compression therapy, and exercise – depending on the location of your lymphedema.
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