Singing River

Risk of Lymphedema Following Cancer Interventions

Lymph arm.jpg

Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein and water that causes swelling, occurring most frequently in an arm or leg. Cancer interventions often damage portions of the lymphatic system and are the leading cause of lymphedema in the United States. The lymphatic system is a complex system made up of lymphatic fluid, lymph nodes, vessels, collectors, the spleen, and thymus. Its main functions are to drain substances that cannot be absorbed by the vascular system and also plays a role in your immune response.

Surgical procedures such a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or lymph node resection remove or damage lymph nodes in the affected region, decreasing your body’s ability to filter out this lymph fluid. Radiation treatment also poses a threat for lymphatic system damage. Since lymphatic vessels are mere millimeters beneath the surface of the skin, scar tissue formation along radiation treatment areas can impair lymphatic flow through these vessels. These cancer interventions compromise the lymphatic system which significantly increases the risk of developing lymphedema.

According to the Academy of Lymphatic Studies’, 50-75% of patients that have undergone a mastectomy secondary to breast cancer acquire lymphedema within 5 years. Any cancer that requires surgical intervention and/or radiation on or near the neck, armpit, or groin are also at an increased risk of developing lymphedema. Examples include the following: Breast, prostate, uterus, bladder, lymphoma, and melanoma. Although the majority of lymphedema diagnoses are secondary to cancer, lymphedema may also occur secondary a congenital malformation of the lymphatic system (primary lymphedema) or secondary to trauma, infection, malignant tumors, or chronic venous insufficiencies.

Early detection and management of lymphedema is key! Recognizing these early symptoms and talking with your doctor can ensure you receive proper lymphedema treatment and obtain adequate education and tools needed to manage your diagnosis.

Early signs and symptoms of lymphedema include the following and may come and go at first:

  • Swelling in all or part of the affected region – pressing on the skin with your finger may leave an indentation, which is called pitting edema
  • Abnormal feeling in the extremity, such as tingling, numbness, tight feeling, heavy felling, or just that something doesn’t feel right
  • Rings or clothing fitting differently
  • Veins or tendons harder to distinguish

Regardless of whether lymphedema was caused by cancer interventions or by another source, it is important to know that there are trained therapists nearby that can assist you in understanding your diagnosis. The current gold standard for lymphedema treatment is Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) which consists of manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), compression bandage application, decongestive exercises, and skin care. Treatment for lymphedema is available at many Encore Rehab locations. For a complete listing of Encore Rehabilitation clinics, please visit our website at .

For additional information, please come to one of our free educational meetings held on the 3rdWednesday of each month on the 2nd floor of the Neuroscience Center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi (building right next door to the Cancer Center) or contact one of our Encore Rehab clinics.

This article was written by Jaime Garrett, MS, OTR/L for Encore Rehabilitation in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 

Ocean Springs Neurological Vestibular Rehabilitation
3603 Bienville Blvd., Suite 200, Ocean Springs, MS 39564



After a stroke, David is driving again!

David Weatherly Driving Simulator 3 Ocean Springs Neuro

David Weatherly learns to drive again using the Driving Simulation Program at Singing River Neuro Clinic in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

David Weatherly suffered a stroke two years ago. He couldn’t walk, drive, or use his hand. He felt like his inability to drive became a burden on his wife. He decided he wanted to drive again!

David Weatherly Driving Simulator Ocean Springs Neuro

Working with his physician, David was referred to Singing River’s Neuro Rehab Clinic in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Here David would take part in the Driving Simulation Program with Encore Rehabilitation Occupational Therapist Christa Anderson.

David Weatherly Driving Simulator 2 Ocean Springs Neuro

Christa Anderson OT Driving Simulator Ocean Springs Neuro

Christa Anderson, Occupational Therapist with Encore Rehabilitation

After a few weeks of using the Driving Simulation Program, David’s accuracy and speed of movement improved and now he can drive again! Outstanding job, David!

If you would like to know more about the Driving Simulation Program at Singing River Neuro Rehab Clinic in Ocean Springs, call 228-818-1207.

To view a video of David’s complete story, please click here.


Grayson smiling at Santa!

Grayson Richardson has Down Syndrome and attends the Ocean Springs Pediatric Clinic for Speech Therapy.  He smiles all the time and has a special talent for remembering the  name of everyone he meets at the clinic.  You have a great smile, Grayson!

Santa stopped by the clinic on Monday, December 11th to visit all the kids.  We enjoy Santa’s visit every year! Merry Christmas from Ocean Springs Pediatric Clinic and Encore Rehabilitation!