Lymphoedema and cellulitis
After surgery or radiation therapy to the pelvic area, you may find that one or both legs become swollen. This is known as lymphoedema. Another possible side effect after lymph node removal is a skin infection known as cellulitis.
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Sometimes when lymph nodes are removed from the pelvis, or when radiation therapy affects the lymph nodes, the lymph fluid may stop circulating properly and can build up in the legs. This causes the swelling known as lymphoedema. The swelling may appear during treatment or months or years later.
Lymphoedema can make movement and some types of activities difficult. It is important to maintain a healthy body weight, avoid pressure, injury or infection to the legs, and manage lymphoedema symptoms as soon as possible.
Mild lymphoedema is usually managed with exercise, skin care and a compression stocking. To find a health professional who specialises in the management of lymphoedema, speak to your treatment team or visit the Australasian Lymphology Association.
Learn more about lymphoedema.
If your GP refers you to an allied health professional as part of a Chronic Disease Management Plan, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate for up to five visits each year. Ask your GP for more details.
The skin of the legs may become infected more easily after lymph glands are removed. A common skin infection is called cellulitis. Signs of cellulitis include redness, painful swelling in the legs, warm skin and fever. If you have any symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible.
Keep the skin healthy and unbroken to reduce the risk of infection. Exercise regularly and avoid tight-fitting clothing. Use moisturiser and sunscreen, and avoid scratches, cuts, burns, insect bites, and injections in your legs. Also keep your feet clean and dry to avoid fungal infections.
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A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland, QLD; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Prof Michael Friedlander, Medical Oncologist, The Prince of Wales Hospital and Conjoint Professor of Medicine, The University of NSW, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Adele Hudson, Statewide Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Oncology Service, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Dr Anthony Richards, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, VIC; Georgina Richter, Gynaecological Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
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