Lymphedema-Who gets it?
Lymphedema - Who gets it?

Who is likely to get lymphedema?

  • Some patients are less likely to get for lymphedema; especially if other lymph nodes are not damaged during surgery.


  • Arlene Wahwasuck
    Prairie Band Potawatomi
    Dx 2002 Breast Cancer



    "My lymph nodes were negative and the size of the lump was small"

    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

  • It is not really clear why some patients have no problems with lymphedema but other patients have many problems.
  • Breast cancer patients who had surgery may get lymphedema
    • This includes a simple mastectomy, lumpectomy or any other type of surgery that includes the lymph nodes
  • Lymphedema also happens from radiation that damages the lymph nodes
Do only breast cancer patients get lymphedema?
  • No, other cancer patients who have lymph nodes removed may also get lymphedema:
    • Prostate cancer
    • Uterine cancer
    • Cervical cancer
    • Testicular cancer
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Pancreatic cancer
    • Liver cancer
  • For some of these other types of cancer, the legs are more likely to swell than are the arms.
  • Some people who are not cancer patients also get lymphedema. Their treatments may be the same as for cancer patients.
What are some other facts about cancer-related lymphedema?
  • It is about twice as common in women than in men
  • Only about one out of every five people who have lymph nodes removed as part of their cancer diagnosis gets lymphedema
  • It may happen right after your surgery or it may not happen for years after you have recovered from your cancer experience
  • Even though a lot of people get lymphedema, many patients do not remember the provider ever telling them about it
  • It does NOT mean that your cancer has spread
  • It is important to do daily activities to help prevent it
What is "primary" lymphedema? (Not related to cancer diagnosis or treatment)
  • These types of lymphedema are different from the type of lymphedema that cancer patients get (March /April 2006; nursing made incredibly easy! p. 27).
    • "Congenital" means that a baby is born with damaged lymph tissue or is missing tissue that makes up the lymphatic system. This has nothing to do with cancer.
    • "Lymphedema Praecox" is also a condition the person is born with. It shows up anytime between birth and 35 years It also has nothing to do with cancer.
    • "Lymphedema tarda" is also a condition a person is born with but doesn't show up until after age 35.
How is cancer-related lymphedema labeled?
  • Damage to the lymph nodes from surgery or radiation is also called, "secondary" lymphedema.
  • "Mild acute lymphedema" lasts for only a few days. It is not usually painful.
  • "Acute lymphedema" occurs 6 to 8 weeks after surgery or radiation. The arm or leg feels warm or hot, and is painful.
  • "Superficial" is caused by an insect bite or injury to the arm or leg. The inflammation is likely to begin within 24 hours of the bite or injury. The arm or leg feels warm or hot, and is painful.
  • "Delayed Acute lymphedema" may occur long after the surgery or radiation. While it usually begins 18 to 24 months after surgery, it may occur many years after treatment is completed.



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