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Lymphoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs.
According to NHS, It develops when the lymphatic system does not work properly. The lymphatic system is a network of channels and glands throughout the body that helps fight infection and remove excess fluid.
It's important that lymphoedema is identified and treated as soon as possible. If it is not treated, it can get worse.
Symptoms of lymphoedema
The main symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in all or part of a limb or another part of the body. It can be difficult to fit into clothes, and jewellery and watches can feel tight.
At first, the swelling may come and go. It may get worse during the day and go down overnight. Without treatment, it will usually become more severe and persistent.
Other symptoms in an affected body part can include an aching, heavy feeling, difficulty with movement, repeated skin infections, hard, tight skin, folds developing in the skin, wart-like growths developing on the skin and fluid leaking through the skin.
What causes lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is caused by a problem with the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout the body. The main functions of the lymphatic system are helping fight infection and draining excess fluid from tissues.
There are 2 main types of lymphoedema:
1. primary lymphoedema: caused by faulty genes that affect the development of the lymphatic system; it can develop at any age, but usually starts during infancy, adolescence, or early adulthood
2. secondary lymphoedema: caused by damage to the lymphatic system or problems with the movement and drainage of fluid in the lymphatic system; it can be the result of a cancer treatment, an infection, injury, inflammation of the limb, or a lack of limb movement.
Lymphoedema is thought to affect more than 200,000 people in the UK. Primary lymphoedema is rare and is thought to affect around 1 in every 6,000 people. Secondary lymphoedema is much more common.
Secondary lymphoedema affects around 2 in 10 people with breast cancer, and 5 in 10 people with vulval cancer. About 3 in every 10 people with penile cancer get lymphoedema.
People who have treatment for melanoma in the lymph nodes in the groin can also get lymphoedema.
Your treatment team will let you know if you're at risk of getting lymphoedema from your cancer or cancer treatment. Any planned treatment you have will try to avoid causing damage to your lymph nodes.
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