Understanding Lymphedema: For Cancers Other Than Breast Cancer

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Signs of lymphedema

Some signs of lymphedema:

  • Swelling
  • Part of your body, like your arm, leg, belly, or genitals, feels full or heavy
  • Skin changes texture, feels tight or hard, or looks red
  • New aching, tingling, or other discomfort in the area
  • Less movement or flexibility in nearby joints, like your hand, wrist, or ankle, or your eyelid(s) or lips
  • Trouble fitting into clothes in one area, such as a jacket sleeve, pant leg, or shoe being tight
  • Collars, rings, watches, and/or bracelets feel tight even though you haven’t gained weight

At first, the skin usually stays soft and raising the affected body part might relieve the swelling. But over time, the swollen area may become hot and red and the skin hard and stiff.

If you have had lymph nodes removed or radiation treatment, look closely at your body in front of a mirror. Compare both sides of your body and look for changes in size, shape, or skin color. Get to know your body and what’s normal for you. This way you can spot changes and get treatment right away. Let your doctor, nurse, or lymphedema therapist know if you notice any of the signs listed above.

Some doctors measure the affected body part (like a leg or arm) before surgery, then re-measure afterward so that swelling can be detected and treated before it becomes obvious. You can ask your doctor to take these measurements or refer you to a physical therapist to have this done. If possible, ask to be referred to a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT).

Last Medical Review: 04/05/2013
Last Revised: 04/05/2013