Lymphedema Care

With a diagnosis of cancer, you have a lot to face. That includes the possibility of getting lymphedema, swelling and discomfort in your arms or legs. At UVA, we have the expert lymphedema care you need to help prevent and manage symptoms.

Lymphedema Care at UVA

Lymphedema is a progressive condition. This means it gets worse over time. Without treatment, it can cause permanent tissue damage.

At UVA, we don't just manage lymphedema. We address it before it even shows up.  

We have one of Virginia’s few lymphedema surveillance clinics. Here, you can access a simple test before and after cancer surgery to see if you’re at risk for lymphedema.

You'll also have specialists easing your pain through a variety of care services. No cure exists for lymphedema. But we’ll teach you how to prevent and manage any swelling and discomfort.

Get Checked for Lymphedema Before Surgery

We can see if you’re at risk for lymphedema. You can start therapy right away, even before it shows any visible signs.

UVA Health is one of few places to offer what’s known as a bioimpedance spectroscopy machine.

You won’t feel a thing. This machine sends an extremely low-strength electric current through your body. The current tells doctors if your lymphatic system isn’t working well.

If you’re at risk for lymphedema, you can come back for regular screenings in the years after cancer treatment.

Services & Training from Lymphedema Specialists

If and when you start to get symptoms, our certified lymphedema therapist can help reduce swelling. Several therapies can drain built-up fluid. These include:

  • A special type of massage
  • Regular compression wrapping sessions done in our clinic over 3 to 4 weeks
  • Fitting for compression garments, special sleeves or stockings to prevent swelling in arms or legs

We can also teach you how to do this massage and wrapping at home.

What Causes Lymphedema?

Lymphedema can happen if we need to remove lymph nodes (small glands) during your cancer treatment.

Cancer spreads from where it starts to the rest of the body through lymph nodes. That’s why you might need them removed.

Surgeons always try to remove as few nodes as possible. But taking out even a couple of nodes can cause lymph fluid to back up and build up in the soft tissue under your skin. This makes your arm or leg feel:

  • Tingly
  • Achy
  • Heavy and swollen

An important part of your immune system, lymph nodes and protein-rich lymph fluid filter bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Your lymphatic system also heals skin injuries, like bug bites, cuts, or burns.

How to Keep Lymphedema from Getting Worse

You can take simple steps to prevent your condition from getting worse:

  • Get regular exercise that includes strength training with light (5- to 10-pound) weights
  • Always use bug spray to avoid a bite
  • Always use sunscreen to keep from getting burned
  • Shave with an electric razor to avoid a nick that could get infected
  • Avoid getting your blood pressure taken, or having an IV placed in the affected arm

Cancer Rehab: Regain Your Strength & Live Without Pain

Lymphedema is just one of many physical side effects caused by cancer treatment. Cancer rehab doctors, nurses, and therapists can help you before, during, and after treatment.

Learn more about why you need a cancer rehab expert.