Swelling after Cancer Treatment

Lymphedema can develop after cancer treatment, such as removing lymph nodes after surgery, radiation treatment, or after some types of chemotherapy or hormone treatment. Lymphedema is most commonly seen with breast cancer in women and with prostate cancer in men. Breast and prostate cancer are the most frequent cancer types in women and men, respectively.

After breast cancer surgery, lymphedema mainly occurs in the arm. Cancer cells spread through the lymph vessels into the lymph nodes first. Many women have at least 1-3 lymph nodes removed in the proximity of cancer (sentinel lymph node biopsy) or sometimes even more (axillary lymph node dissection). Radiation therapy is often part of cancer therapy and can destroy the lymphatic system as well. After such surgical procedures and therapies, edema can also develop at your chest/breast and the chest wall. Obesity increases the risk of lymphedema after breast cancer treatment.

Find more information about how to reduce your risk of developing lymphedema

In patients with prostate cancer, cancer cells can spread to the surrounding lymph nodes in the groin. Removal of these lymph nodes or radiation therapy in this area also results in swelling around the groin and can also affect the genitals. The different locations of lymphedema are described here.

Other cancer types that are often associated with lymphedema are:

Lymphedema is a significant burden for the patient, especially when associated with cancer. Treating lymphedema requires a holistic approach that also includes your mental well-being. Self-management and connecting with people who have to deal with the same disease are important parts of lymphedema treatment.