What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema occurs when protein-rich fluid (i.e. edema) accumulate in tissues due to damage of the lymphatic network of ducts that run parallel to veins and arteries.  Damage to lymphatic network can occur from surgeries such as lymph node dissections or from radiation therapy.  The body continues to product lymphatic fluid, but damage to this network prevents drainage of lymphatic fluid. Accumulation in fluid can lead to pain, discomfort, and limit mobility and ability to accomplish physical tasks.  Lymphedema typically occurs 2-3 years after treatment.  Patients most at risk for developing lymphedema are in patients with breast cancer, head and neck cancers, gynecologic cancers, genitourinary cancers, and sarcomas.

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