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Lymphedema

Preparation

Main points of information

Information should be given to patients who have received surgery only or combined with radiotherapy with increased risk of getting lymphedema. The patient usually gets information about lymphedema after the surgery. Sufficient information and guidance is important and crucial for both avoiding getting lymphedema and being able to identify lymphedema at the very beginning.

  • The function and purpose of the lymphatic system
  • Causes of lymphedema
  • Symptoms of lymphedema
  • Different treatment options
  • Precaution
  • Complications/side effects caused by the disease and treatment
  • The importance of maintaining mobility in the arm or leg

Symptoms of lymphedema

  • A feeling of uncomfortable change
  • A feeling of heaviness
  • Bursting pain
  • Changes of consistency (visible or palpable) in the soft tissues
  • Suspicion of increased circumference
  • Swelling may disappear overnight, but usually returns during daytime
  • Some have swelling sporadically

The dominating symptom is lasting swelling in the involved area. Other symptoms will to a large extent depend on the amount, duration, and localization of the edema.

Moderate swelling after cancer surgery, can be a reaction which often spontaneously disappears.

Diagnostics

Lymphedema is usually measured using a clinical method. There are multiple methods to measure the extent of lymphedema. The gold standard is the water displacement method, which measures and compares the volumes of both arms/legs. But a method of comparing volume by using several circumferential measurements of the arms/legs is often used in research and sometimes in the clinical setting. The most widely used method is measurement of circumference at multiple anatomic points on the arm/leg with comparison with the contralateral arm/leg. A difference in circumference of ≥2cm is often defined as lymphedema. Stemmer sign is also used.

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