James Metz, MD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 1, 2001
Lymphatic fluid is a clear, colorless fluid which passes through the capillary walls into the tissues of your body. Lymph channels carry the lymphatic fluid first to lymph nodes which filter out bacteria and other debris, and then back to the circulating blood. Lymph fluid is moved through the channels in the arms and legs by contraction of the muscles and valves which prevent it from flowing backward. When surgery is performed on the lymph nodes in the armpit such as for breast cancer, the lymph flow may be slowed. Surgery on the lymph glands in the abdomen may slow the drainage of fluid from the legs. This might result in swelling of the arms or legs (Lymphedema) depending on the area treated.
If you are a patient who has had combined surgery and radiation therapy to the lymph node region, you may be at an increased risk of developing lymphedema. You should notify your physician immediately if you develop swelling in the arm or leg. You may have an infection which requires prompt treatment. The most important way to combat lymphedema is to prevent its occurrence. Here are some simple recommendations:
For the Arm:
For the Leg: