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- Managing radiation therapy side effects
Lymphoedema is swelling that occurs in soft tissue. If lymph nodes or lymph vessels have been damaged during radiation therapy, lymph fluid may not drain properly. If lymph fluid builds up, it can cause swelling in the area being treated. Lymphoedema usually occurs in an arm or leg, but can also affect other parts of the body.
People who have had surgery followed by radiation therapy are more at risk. Lymphoedema or swelling is sometimes just a temporary effect of radiation therapy, but it can be ongoing. It can also be a late effect, appearing months or even years after treatment.
Lymphoedema is easier to manage if the condition is treated early. The main signs of lymphoedema include swelling, redness and skin warmth, which may come and go. It is important to avoid pressure, injury or infection to the affected part of your body, and to see your doctor if you have any signs of lymphoedema.
Some hospitals have specialist physiotherapists who can teach you simple exercises to reduce your risk of developing lymphoedema or show you ways to manage it if you have developed it. There are also outpatient and private lymphoedema practitioners.
Lymphoedema practitioners can develop a personalised treatment program. This may include exercises, skin care, lymphatic drainage massage and compression garments, if needed. To find a lymphoedema practitioner, visit the Australasian Lymphology Association.
For more on this, see Lymphoedema, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, and Dean, RANZCR Faculty of Radiation Oncology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Patricia Hanley, Consumer; Prof Michael Hofman, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Leanne Hoy, Cancer Nurse Consultant, GenesisCare, VIC; Sharon King, Accredited Practising Dietitian, TAS; Dr Yoo Young (Dominique) Lee, Radiation Oncology Consultant, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Wendy Phillips, Senior Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Katrina Rech, Radiation Therapist and Quality Systems Manager, GenesisCare, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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