Lymphoedema is swelling that occurs in soft tissue. If lymph nodes have been removed in a lymphadenectomy or damaged during surgery or radiation therapy, it may prevent lymph fluid from draining properly. This causes fluid build-up and swelling in the neck and face.
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People who have had surgery followed by radiation therapy to the neck are more at risk, especially if both sides are treated. The likelihood of developing lymphoedema will also depend on the number of lymph nodes removed during surgery. Lymphoedema can be temporary or permanent and may change your appearance.
Symptoms of lymphoedema are 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 look out for these signs and to see your doctor if they appear.
Sometimes the swelling and other signs of lymphoedema can take months or years to develop, although some people who are at risk never develop the condition.
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 provide education on prevention and provide a personalised treatment program. This may include lymphatic drainage massage, exercises, low level laser therapy, skin care and compression garments, if needed.
|To find a practitioner who specialises in the management of lymphoedema, visit the Australasian Lymphology Association.|
A/Prof David Wiesenfeld, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Director, Head and Neck Tumour Stream, The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Melbourne Health, VIC; Alan Bradbury, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Senior Clinical and Health Psychologist, John Hunter Hospital, NSW; Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, QLD; Jedda Clune, Senior Dietitian (Head and Neck Cancer), Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Dr Ben Dixon, ENT, Head and Neck Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; Emma Hair, Senior Social Worker, St George Hospital, NSW; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Kara Hutchinson, Head and Neck Cancer Nurse Coordinator, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Julia Maclean, Speech Pathologist, St George Hospital, NSW; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Andrea Wong, Physiotherapist, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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