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How Lymphoedema Develops

Lymphoedema develops when lymph nodes and vessels get damaged or blocked and if the lymph nodes have been surgically removed. Thus causes the lymph fluid to build up between the tissues and results in swelling (oedema).

If the lymph nodes or vessels are damaged by cancer treatments, they cannot be repaired. This means if Lymphoedema develops, it cannot be reversed. Although the swelling can usually be reduced; Lymphoedema does become a life-long chronic condition but can be well managed with early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and self-management.

You can reduce the risk of Lymphoedema developing by taking care of your skin, monitoring for early signs of infection, daily exercise & keeping active, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a well-balanced diet.

For further information on Lymphoedema and how to reduce the risk of Lymphoedema see the following leaflet:
Reducing the Risks of Lymphoedema leaflet

For further information on how to reduce the risk of Lymphoedema see the following links provided below:

Causes of Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema caused by cancer treatments or cancer itself is often due to:

  • Surgery – this can damage the flow of the lymphatic system, causing a build-up of fluid.  Those that have their lymph nodes surgically removed are at a higher risk of developing Lymphoedema
  • Radiotherapy – this can cause scar tissue and tissue thickening that blocks the flow of lymph fluid
  • Cancer cells that spread to the lymph nodes can cause blockages, leading to fluid building up within the tissue spaces
  • Tumours – cancer or tumours can compress against the lymph vessels, causing blockages within the lymphatic system

Lymphoedema following cancer treatments

Lymphoedema can develop at any time after cancer treatments. The most common areas in the body for this to develop are:

  • The arms and hands
  • The legs
  • The breast(s) or chest area
  • The pelvic and genital region
  • The face, head and neck

It is common to have swelling (oedema) near the surgical scar following surgery; this usually settles down after several weeks. Whereas Lymphoedema is more likely to be persistent swelling of more than three months.

Signs and Symptoms of Lymphoedema include:

  • Swelling
  • Changes in sensations
  • Skin changes
  • Aching or discomfort in the affected area

If you are worried or concerned that you or your relative may be developing Lymphoedema it is always best to contact your GP or appropriate Healthcare Professional.