Lymphedema occurs in a small number of women following treatment for breast cancer. It is characterized by swelling in tissues where there has been a change in the normal lymphatic flow. Lymphedema can occur anywhere in the body, but women who have undergone breast cancer surgery or radiation therapy sometimes experience lymphedema in a hand, arm, breast, or near the chest wall or back on their affected side.
Lymphedema may occur soon after therapy for breast cancer treatment or not until many years later. Lymphedema therapy by a trained therapist can be helpful in reducing the swelling. Lymphedema treatment programs often include exercise, manual lymphatic drainage (a special massage technique), skin care and the use of compression bandages. The compression bandages provide therapeutic pressure and are worn mostly at night and during exercise.
Inova Cancer Institute covers a full continuum of lymphedema care, from consultation, evaluation and treatment to lifelong follow-up as needed. Additional services at select locations include lymphedema support group referral, regular education classes for the community and an in-service educational resource center.