What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a collection of fluid in the tissues. It most often occurs in the arms or legs. It is not the same as water retention and it needs very different treatment and is caused by a blockage or slowdown in the lymph system.
How do I know if a patient has lymphedema?
A patient may experience swelling in their arm, breast, leg, or genital area. The swelling may be present at all times or it can come and go. The affected area may also feel heavy or ache.
Why does cancer or cancer treatment cause lymphedema?
During surgery for cancer, lymph nodes are often taken out to see of the disease has spread, Sometimes this causes swelling in a limb. Radiation therapy is often used to treat lymph nodes which may have cancer inside them. While it kills cancer cells, it can also damage the healthy cells of the lymph node. The lymph node then works more slowly and it cannot filter fluid very well. Cancer in the lymph nodes can cause a blockage that results in lymphedema.
If your patient is experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact their primary nurse or oncologist and ask for a referral to the Lymphedema Clinic at the London Regional Cancer Program.