Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid (lymph/swelling) in soft body tissues, due to impairment of the lymphatic vessels.  This buildup of lymph results in swelling called lymphedema. 

The lymphatic system carries a clear fluid called lymph, which drains out from tiny blood vessels to lymphatic vessels throughout the body.  Lymph contains water, fats, white blood cells and other components. 

Lymph from tissues and organs, drains into the lymphatic system. It then travels through the lymph nodes where it is filtered, before returning into the blood stream. 

Swelling may be so subtle that you may not notice initially but it can change overtime, potentially leading to larger limbs/fingers/chest etc. 


How do I get Lymphedema? 

Lymphedema can occur when there’s damage or impairment to the lymphatic system. Some of the common way this happens: 

  • Cancer/ Radiation Therapy – When lymph nodes are removed or damaged during breast cancer surgery (and other cancer surgeries) or are treated with radiation. Some of the lymph vessels can become blocked or can disappear entirely. This blockage may prevent lymph from draining the area and will overwhelm the remaining pathways, resulting in a backup of fluid in the body. 
  • Surgery – Lymphedema can occur because of surgical procedures that involve the removal of lymph nodes or damage to the lymphatic vessels. 
  • Infection – Causes inflammation and damage to the lymphatic vessels. 
  • Trauma – Such as burns, cuts, breaks and accidents may damage the lymphatic system and disrupt the flow of lymph. 
  • Congenital Conditions – Some individuals may be born with abnormalities or malformations of the lymphatic system, which can predispose them to developing lymphedema during their life. 


When does Lymphedema appear post treatment? 

The onset of lymphedema can vary depending on several factors, the type of treatment received, and any underlying health conditions. In some cases, lymphedema may develop shortly after treatment, but generally, it may take months or even years to appear. 


What is my chance of getting Lymphedema after my surgery? 

Lymphedema will affect 20-40% of woman that have breast cancer, predominately in the arm they received the cancer treatment. 

Can Lymphedema be treated? 

Yes, lymphedema can be treated, although it is typically managed rather than cured completely. The goals of treatments are to reduce swelling, alleviate discomfort, prevent complications, and improve overall quality of life for individuals living with lymphedema. Treatment approaches may vary depending on the severity of the condition and individual needs, but commonly used strategies include:  

  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): MLD is a specialized massage technique performed by trained therapists to stimulate the lymphatic system and encourage the drainage of excess fluid from the affected area. This gentle, hands-on approach can help reduce swelling and improve lymphatic function.
  • Compression Therapy: Compression garments or bandages are worn on the affected limb to apply external pressure and promote the movement of lymph fluid. Compression helps prevent fluid buildup and reduces swelling.  
  • Exercise: Physical activity, can help improve lymphatic flow, muscle strength, and joint mobility. 
  • Skin Care: Proper skincare is essential for individuals with lymphedema to prevent infections and minimize skin-related complications. This includes keeping the skin clean, moisturized, and protected from cuts, scratches, and other injuries. 
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Making certain lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding prolonged periods of immobility, practicing good hygiene, and protecting the affected limb from injury, can help manage lymphedema and reduce the risk of exacerbating symptoms. 
  • Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT): CDT is a comprehensive treatment approach that combines various strategies, including MLD, compression therapy, exercise, skincare, and patient education. This multidisciplinary approach is often considered the gold standard for managing lymphedema. 


Here at Wellness House, we are able to help manage your Lymphedema. We are privileged to have Emmanuelle Ravez who is trained in Manual Lymphatic Drainage and Combined Decongestive Therapy. To book with Emmanuelle please click here. 


Fu MR. Breast cancer-related lymphedema: Symptoms, diagnosis, risk reduction, and management. World J Clin Oncol. 2014 Aug 10;5(3):241-7.  

Petrek JA, Senie RT, Peters M, Rosen PP. Lymphedema in a cohort of breast carcinoma survivors 20 years after diagnosis. Cancer. 2001;92:1368–1377