During treatment for cancer, lymph
nodes and the vessels around them that are near the cancer are often removed by surgery.
Or they may be treated with radiation. This scars and damages them. Radiation is done
because it’s common for cancer to spread to nearby lymph nodes.
When lymph nodes are gone or don’t
work, it disrupts the normal flow of lymph fluid. This can lead to swelling. So instead
of lymph draining into your body as it should, the fluid builds up in the fatty tissues
under the skin. This causes the swelling. This swelling is lymphedema. The changes in
the flow of lymph keep the lymph from being filtered the way it should. This can
increase the risk of infections. It can also interfere with wound healing in the
Lymphedema can affect 1 or both
arms or legs, the face, the groin, the head and neck, or the belly (abdomen). It depends
on which part of the body was treated for cancer. Swelling can get worse over time and
cause problems. You can get sores or other skin problems. Affected areas are more likely
to become infected.
After cancer treatment that removes
or damages lymph nodes, you are at risk for lymphedema for the rest of your life.