Your lymphatic system cooperates with your circulatory system, acting like a janitor keeping your systems clean. It is made up of a network of vessels, ducts, capillaries and nodes which collect and carry lymph fluid throughout your body. This fluid contains substances which help fight infections. Your lymph nodes filter out bacteria, waste products, and toxic substances from the lymphatic fluid. Lymphedema is a condition that causes a build-up of lymph fluid in your body.
If your lymph nodes and vessels have been surgically removed or damaged by radiation, it makes it harder for your lymph fluid to flow as affectively as it used to in that area. If the remaining lymph vessels cannot remove enough of the fluid the extra amounts can build up and cause swelling.
Depending on the type of your cancer, lymphedema may affect your arms, legs, torso or head and neck. It can develop soon after surgery, months or even years later. Lymphedema can range from mild to serve in symptoms and pain. If caught in its earlier stages it can be manageable.
Signs of lymphedema
Some common signs of lymphedema include:
- A full or heavy feeling in the area, like your arm, leg, belly, or genitals
- The skin in the area changes texture, feels tight or hard, or looks red
- New aching or discomfort in the area
- Less movement or flexibility in nearby joints, like your hand, wrist, or ankle
- Trouble fitting into clothes on one side, like the sleeve on a shirt, a pant leg, or a sock
- Your rings, watches, and/or bracelets may start to feel tight