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Let's Understand Lymphedema

AxillaryLymphedema is chronic swelling and the sensation of tightness in the hand or arm due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the arm’s soft tissue. This occurs when the flow of the lymph vessels to the central circulation is interrupted. Breast cancer patients often require the removal of Axillary (underarm) lymph nodes. About 20% of these patients develop lymphedema. The American Cancer Society indicates that there are 2 million breast cancer survivors in the USA. This leaves many cancer survivors living with lymphedema on a day-to-day basis.

Lymphedema can occur in the foot and leg as well. It can be caused by chronic infection, normally involving the legs. Chronic lymphedema can lead to minor swelling and uneasiness. It can lead to serious disfigurement and disability.

Types of Lymphedema

The primary types of Lymphedema are:

Primary lymphedema is a genetic disorder in which lymphatic vessels fail to develop properly before birth. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that up to 1,000,000 Americans have Primary Lymphedema.


Secondary lymphedema is an acquired disorder that is caused by damage to the lymphatic system. Cancer treatment is the most common cause of this condition. It is estimated that there are approximately 3 millioncases of SLE in the US. Cancer treatment is commonly considered to be the greatest single cause of SLE. Additional causes are due to injuries, surgery, radiation, joint replacement, burns, scars, and obesity.

SLE usually develops where lymphatic structures have been damaged or removed. The most common SLE is found in the arms and legs; however, it can also be found in other areas


Symptoms of Lymphedema

Lymphedema symptoms include:
- Swelling of part of your arm or leg or your entire arm or leg, including your  fingers or toes

- Heaviness or tightness in your arm or leg

- Restricted range of motion in your arm or leg

- Pain or discomfort in your arm or leg

- Recurring infections in your affected limb

- Thickening or hardening of the skin on your arm or leg

The swelling caused by lymphedema can be hardly noticeable and change to extreme swelling that can make it difficult it not impossible to use the affected limb. If your lymphedema is caused by cancer treatment swelling may be undetectable for months or years after treatment.


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