Areas of the body - Lymphoedema
Lymphoedema is most often seen in the arms and legs but it can also develop in other areas of the body such as face, neck, trunk, breasts and genitalia.
Swelling of the genitals, in both males and females, is a possible side effect of pelvic surgery, radiation or a defective lymphatic system. Genital lymphoedema is also frequently seen in primary lymphoedema patients when the lymphatic system is damaged in the lower body. The swelling often occurs in the area over the pubic bone for both males and females.
Sometimes people may feel embarrassed to discuss swelling in this area but it is important that you advise your healthcare professional if you have genital swelling. To avoid further complications, it is better to seek advice as soon as possible so that treatment options can be discussed.
Scrotal lymphoedema can develop rapidly and easily accumulate a large amount of fluid. This type of swelling can make walking and the fit of clothing a challenge, in addition to possibly causing isolation from friends and family. Although more unusual, the penis can also become swollen. However, with treatment the symptoms can be improved, and managed.
Labial lymphoedema is sometimes evident when women have had surgery or radiotherapy to the area or surrounding area. Occasionally this area can leak fluid or it can be seen from small vesicles in the top of the leg. Contact your healthcare professional for further advice and support. In the meantime, keep the area very clean and perhaps cover with a soft dressing to absorb the fluid.
Head and neck
When surgery and/or radiation are performed on certain areas of the head and neck, lymphoedema can occur. If the area being treated drains lymph fluid from the head and neck, the vessels can be affected and swelling can occur. The only avenue of drainage from the head is through the neck and therefore, swelling is frequently a side-effect of head and neck cancer treatments.
Those suffering from head or neck lymphoedema may feel isolated and avoid social situations. Our faces are very visible and swelling here could make a person feel awkward and uncomfortable around others. If you are suffering from head and neck lymphoedema and feel this way, talk to your healthcare professional and make sure they know how you feel so they can best support you.
Swelling is often seen
- under the chin
- jaw line
- in front or behind the ear(s)
- the cheek(s)
- the eye socket
- inside the mouth
In most cases, the swelling is managed on a daily basis by yourself. It is recommended that you seek medical advice and instructions on how to manage the swelling from a lymphoedema nurse specialist. As with all other types of lymphoedema, the earlier the condition is diagnosed and treatment starts, the better the outcomes. Frequently the swelling is larger in the morning and decreases throughout the day, likely due to the influence of gravity on the head area. With proper management, good outcomes are possible.
Breast and chest wall
One of the more common forms of lymphoedema develops in the arm following breast cancer surgery. Your lymphatic system is part of your body’s immune system and therefore, cancer often spreads to lymph nodes first. It is common practice for breast surgeons to include a sentinel lymph node biopsy or axillary lymph node removal while performing a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Swelling (or oedema) can also be noted with radiation treatments that are often implemented after surgery. Breast and chest wall oedema can also occur following these surgeries and treatments.
Your breast does not have the same muscle pump that your limb has, making it harder for that area to drain. Common symptoms include swelling of the affected breast, chest wall area, right under your armpit, and your back. It might also feel hot, painful, stiff and heavy. Your arm may not sit well to the side of the chest wall due to the increased swelling or it might feel that you have a small ball in your axilla preventing the arm fitting/resting to the side of the chest wall.
Cording is the term given to scar tissue or axillary web syndrome. This may occur weeks, months or years after lymph node removal. The connective tissues under the armpit become inflamed and form one or more tight bands. The condition may be uncomfortable and/or limit arm movement but is otherwise harmless. There are various treatments that can help improve and resolve this condition.