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Lymphedema Therapy

Treatment locations

Certified lymphedema therapists provide treatment at numerous Inova locations, including Inova Alexandria, Inova Fairfax, Inova  Fair Oaks and Inova Loudoun hospitals, and at Inova Physical Therapy Center – Springfield and Inova Physical Therapy Center – Woodbridge.

What is lymphedema?

The lymphatic system absorbs the fluid that normally collects in the tissues throughout the body and returns the fluid back into the blood. Changes in the lymphatic system may cause a back-up of fluid in the system, leading to fluid collection in the tissues. This type of fluid collection is swelling or lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur anywhere in the body where there has been a change in the normal lymphatic flow, including the hand, arm, chest wall, breast or back.

Why are women treated for breast cancer at risk for lymphedema?

Lymphedema occurs in a small number of women following treatment for breast cancer. It can be caused when tiny lymphatic vessels are damaged or cut during surgery or from scarring of the lymphatic channels during healing or radiation therapy.

Lymphedema may occur soon after therapy for breast cancer treatment or not until many years later. Sometimes swelling of the arm occurs immediately after auxiliary node dissection. Lymphedema therapy can be helpful if swelling remains longer than you and your surgeon feel is normal.

What treatment is available?

If you have lymphedema, consider seeing a therapist trained in treating lymphedema. There are effective, time-efficient treatments available to help you. The best treatment programs use exercise, manual lymphatic drainage (a special massage technique), skin care and compression bandages as part of the treatment plan to reduce swelling. The compression bandages provide therapeutic pressure and are worn mostly at night and during exercise.

Inova services cover 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.