After breast cancer surgery, lymphoedema most frequently occurs in the arm. Cancer cells spread through the lymph vessels into the lymph nodes first. Most people 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 damage the lymphatic system.
Oedema of the chest and chest wall
After surgical procedures and therapies, oedema can develop in your chest/breast and in the chest wall. Unlike arms and legs, the breast does not have a muscle pump and as a result drainage in this area is more difficult. Swelling often occurs around the affected breast, the chest wall, under the armpit, and in the back. The swollen areas may feel hot, painful, hard, and heavy. 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.
Oedema of the head and neck
After surgery and/or radiotherapy, lymphoedema can develop in certain areas of the head or neck. When lymph fluid tries to drain through the treated area, a swelling may occur in the head and neck due to damaged lymph vessels. These side effects are common after treatment for tumors in the head or neck area.
Swelling most commonly occurs in the following areas of 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 oedema. Specially developed solutions for the different parts of the face, e.g. face masks and neck pads, or lymphatic taping to 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. If you are feeling like this, it’s important to put your trust in a healthcare professional who can help you get appropriate treatment.
Oedema 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 lymphoedema may also develop as primary lymphoedema.
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. It can affect many aspects of you life including walking and buying clothes which can be very difficult. You may experience changes in your self-confidence too. Manual lymph drainage (MLD) and compression therapy with specially designed garments and pads can improve your symptoms.
Special exercises can promote drainage as part of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT). In general, staying active is important, although this is much more challenging in genital lymphoedema. Treatment may also consist of good skin hygiene practices and compression therapy. Consult your HCP for advice on compression solutions.
Don’t wait to get help
With all forms of lymphoedema, early treatment improves the prognosis. Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is an effective way to treat lymphoedema. It consists of skin care, Lymphatic Drainage, compression therapy, and exercise – depending on the location of your lymphoedema.
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