What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling of a body part (arm, leg, face, neck, trunk, genitals, etc.) caused by a build-up of body fluid. We all produce proteins in the tissues of our bodies. Usually these proteins, along with excess cells and water, are carried away by our circulatory or lymph systems. If these systems are damaged or injured, the proteins, cells and water begin to collect in the body’s soft tissue, which results in swelling.

An example of damage or injury to the lymph system is the removal of lymph nodes during breast cancer surgery. Not all people will develop lymphedema from this surgery, but sometimes it can occur.


  • A full sensation in the limb
  • Skin that feels tight
  • Decreased flexibility
  • Swelling in a specific area

Severe cases

  • Thickening of skin
  • Hardening of limb
  • Leakage of lymph
  • Massive swelling

If you have any of the above symptoms or have concerns, speak to your primary care provider or oncologist.

Treatment for Lymphedema at Guthrie

Our certified occupational and physical therapists use a specially designed program to help you manage lymphedema. Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is a non-invasive treatment program that consists of four parts:

  • Part One: Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
  • Part Two: Compression Bandaging
  • Part Three: Exercise
  • Part Four: Skin Care and Education

After an initial referral to the Lymphedema program, patients should expect to be treated five days a week for a period of two to six weeks. Each patient’s condition is unique so there may be exceptions to this schedule.

Surgery is often the most effective method of treating breast cancer. It is used to remove the cancerous tumor and any tissue surrounding it that may be affected.