Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Treating Lymphedema in Lower Extremities

Lymphedema is a possible complication of cancer treatment. While it is a well known complication after breast cancer treatment with swelling in the arm or chest wall, lymphedema can also occur in the lower half of the body after treatment for cancers in abdomen and pelvis.



What is lymphedema?

The body’s lymphatic system performs several important functions.
  • Drains protein and excessive fluid from the tissues
  • Helps to digest fat
  • Works as part of the immune system to protect against infection and cancer
Lymphedema is the accumulation of protein-rich fluid causing swelling, or edema, in the soft tissues. This edema irritates the tissues causing inflammation that can lead to thickening and hardening of the tissue. Lymph node sampling (removal) or radiation therapy, as part of treatment for cancer, are two known risk factors for the developing lymphedema after cancer.

Early signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:
  • Achiness
  • Heaviness
  • Increased warmth
  • Swelling
  • Unusual sensation in the limb
Swelling in the region of surgery is normal after a surgical procedure, but swelling that persists for extended periods of time may be cause for concern.

Lymphedema in Lower Extremities

Cardiac disease, nutritional abnormalities or blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) are all conditions that can cause swelling in the legs. It’s important to have any swelling evaluated by a physician to determine the cause.

If it is determined that the swelling is caused by lymphedema it’s important to be evaluated by a health professional with expertise in lymphedema management. Only a few physicians in the United States have expertise in lymphedema diagnosis and management, but many specialists in oncology or physical medicine and rehabilitation recognize this condition and make referrals to specialists in lymphedema management.

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