Lymphoedema and cellulitis
Lymphoedema is a swelling of part of the body, usually a leg in the case of uterine cancer. If lymph nodes have been damaged by radiation therapy or removed during surgery, it may prevent lymph fluid from draining properly. This causes fluid build-up and swelling.
In some cases, the swelling can take months or years to develop, and some women who are at risk never develop lymphoedema. Although lymphoedema may be permanent, it can usually be managed.
The skin of the legs is more prone to infection after removal of the lymph glands. This inflammation is called cellulitis. Signs of cellulitis include redness, painful swelling in the legs, warm skin and fever. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible.
How to prevent and manage lymphoedema
- Ask for a referral to a lymphoedema practitioner, who can suggest ways to help lymph fluid circulate, such as self-massage, exercises, and compression bandages or stockings. To find a practitioner, visit the Australasian Lymphology Association.
- Move lymph fluid out of the affected area by doing leg exercises and gently massaging the swollen leg towards your heart. Elevate your legs when resting.
- Keep the skin healthy and unbroken to reduce the risk of cellulitis. Use moisturiser and sunscreen, and avoid scratches, cuts, burns, insect bites, and injections in your legs. Keep your feet clean and dry to avoid fungal infections.
- Talk to your GP about ways to stay or become a healthy weight for your height.
For more on this, see Lymphoedema.
A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jennifer Loveridge, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Gynaecology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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