What Is Lymphedema?

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a chronic, debilitating condition in which excess fluid collects in tissues and causes swelling, generally in the arms and legs. This may occur after lymph vessel or lymph nodes are removed by surgery or damaged by radiation which impairs normal drainage of lymphatic fluids.

What causes lymphedema?

A major cause of lymphedema in women is removal or damage to a lymph node during treatment for breast cancer. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you should be aware of the early signs of lymphedema, as it may not develop for a while after the cancer treatment.

Anyone who has has removal of or damage to a lymph node through trauma, surgery, or treatment for another illness is at risk to develop lymphedema in the future. While there is currently no cure for lymphedema, there are successful and manageable treatment options that can keep you healthy and happy for the rest of your life.

Who is at risk?


Lymphedema occurs often in breast cancer patients after surgery following underarm lymph node removal and radiation treatments. Lymphedema may also occur after surgery for uterine cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, vulvar cancer, ovarian cancer as well as head and neck cancer. Other types of lymphedema, in the lower extremities, may also be the result of chronic venous insufficiency or from a congenital condition. Whatever the cause, lymphedema may develop within days or many years after treatment.