Patients who have cancer or who have gone through cancer treatments may sometimes be affected by a condition known as lymphedema. This condition occurs when the lymph nodes are damaged by the cancer or cancer treatments and the production and transportation of lymph fluid is impeded. Specifically, if the lymph nodes are damaged, it can cause a buildup of lymph fluid in the fatty tissue under the skin near the tumor or site of the cancer treatment. The buildup can cause swelling, pain, and discomfort, and if left untreated may become life-threatening.

Lymphedema often becomes a chronic condition that needs ongoing treatment to manage symptoms. The condition typically occurs in the arms and legs and if left untreated, may progress into major swelling issues, hardening of the skin, and difficulty moving the affected arms or legs.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Swelling, heaviness, or fullness of the affected area in the arms or legs
  • The swollen area looks red and feels hot
  • Aching, tingling, numbness, or general discomfort
  • Less flexibility or movement of the joint
  • Skin may feel tight or hard
  • Difficulty fitting the arm or leg into clothes or shoes

The primary treatments for lymphedema focus on the reduction of swelling and preventing infection. Baptist Health has a team of physical therapists who specialize in the treatment of lymphedema. Treatments include manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), the use of pressure garments, exercise, laser therapy, weight loss, skin care, and protection from the heat or cold. If you are experiencing symptoms of lymphedema, contact your healthcare provider immediately.