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Norris Cotton Cancer Center
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Lymphedema: A Side Effect of Treatment

One of the side effects that physical therapists can help you with is lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling caused by fluid buildup in the soft tissue, which may result from removal of lymph nodes or damage from radiation therapy.

What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Sensation of fullness or tightness
  • Aching in face and/or neck
  • Increased sensitivity of the swollen part
  • Scars that limit movement or feel tight

Why should lymphedema be treated?

Lymphedema should be treated because:

  • It can become a serious health problem
  • There is an increased risk of infection
  • The longer the swelling is present, the more likely the skin will become thickened, which can make movement more difficult

What is the treatment for lymphedema?

The most effective treatments is called Complete Decongestive Therapy and has several parts, including:

  • Manual lymphatic drainage: a gentle massage technique that helps lymph fluid to flow from blocked areas toward those with normal lymphatic flow.
  • Compression: a bandage or device to help keep fluid out of the treated areas. This could be used at night, or for several hours during the day as needed.
  • Skin care; avoiding skin breaks by using products that help keep your skin healthy.
  • Other techniques to soften any skin thickening.
  • Exercise.
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