Breast Cancer and Lymphedema. Is There a Relationship?

We all have cancer cells running throughout our bodies. Every day we have about 30 cancer cells growing and traveling inside the body. The Lymphatic System (LS) is in charge of getting rid or neutralizing them. However, when this system is sluggish, the lymph  fluid and nodes retain toxins and the LS easily becomes clogged. So, the defense mechanism of the mighty Lymphatic System is reduced. In this opportunistic condition, cancer cells can thrive and multiply randomly. Unfortunately, breast cancer and lymphedema can result.




Breast Cancer and Lymphedema Awareness

When the lymph system is flowing properly, its defense mechanisms are in top shape and all is well! It’s the mighty LS working! However, a clogged Lymphatic System is instrumental in cancer development.


Imagine now, a clogged LS pressed on by wired bras, influenced by hormone imbalances and daily stress. Sure, you guessed it! This is a perfect mix for breast cancer to show up.


The second cause of death in the US is breast cancer. Right now, over three million women – among them our sisters, friends, family and neighbors – are fighting breast cancer.

My sister is a brave breast cancer survivor for over 10 years. She had had surgery with lymph nodes removed and went through radiation, hair loss, nausea, fatigue and all paraphernalia that comes along with cancer therapy.


Most women who are affected by this disease also travel the same infamous road of cancer recovery. However, fewer women know that this traumatic, sad breast cancer story may not end here. Cancer survivors who had lymph nodes removed and/or radiation therapy are “at risk” for Lymphedema. Their chance for developing this serious disease is greatly increased with breast cancer treatment. Breast cancer and lymphedema are closely associated, unless preventive measures are taken.


But, What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling caused by lymph fluid build up in body parts. Lymphedema is a chronic disease caused by impaired Lymphatic System.


Lymphedema of the arm and upper trunk is the most common complication after breast cancer treatment.


The road to lymphedema begins with an impaired Lymphatic System.  Unable to properly drain the lymph fluid the LS causes lymph fluid accumulation and swelling. The lymph fluid becomes stagnant. When stagnant, the protein content of the lymph begins to harden. So, fibrotic tissue shows up. Protein molecules will also attract more water to the already swollen area. Left untreated, swollen increases,  skin bursts resulting in inflammation and repetitive infections. The body part affected gradually swells even more. Over time, it loses its natural shape and function. Over the years, if untreated lymphedema spreads to other body parts.


Usually, lymphedema develops slowly. It’s almost undetectable for years. It’s an insidious disease that can start immediately, months or even years after undergoing breast cancer therapy. It’s onset is mostly unpredictable.


Though lymphedema affects about 3 million Americans, the detection, gravity, development and problems caused by lymphedema are poorly understood by the medical community. Insurance companies in the US don’t pay for the life time treatment lymphedema requires.


So, lymphedema is almost an underground disease. Very few people know about it.  Doctors and medical insurance companies ignore it. Lymphedema sufferers have a tendency to hide it.


Today, because of  lack of information, lots of people have a devastating incurable disease. However, with some information and certain precautions, lymphedema can be avoided or managed if developed.


Lymphedema after breast cancer should not be feared provide precautions are taken.


Stay tuned for Part II and III. Learn how to identify edema and lymphedema, types of lymphedema, ways to prevent it, how to manage it, lymphatic yoga and more!


Stay well! Much love to all!



  1. Peta
    Peta October 23, 2013 at 9:32 am . Reply

    Thank you for your most informative peice
    I have suffered with bilateral leg lymphoedma for over 20 years now and decided to start my yoga again, along with the Dukan Diet. I have lost 6 stone, gone from a size 22 to 16 and got my left leg as much back to normal as possible the right one is a little tardy but getting there. I have just had a very quick bout of cellulitus due to stress and exaustion, (my own fault) but I say quick as it was going very soon after taking the extra antibiotics.. I am convinced it was not as severe due to the yoga which I do daily. If this help anyone please feel free to post
    Thank you again
    Peta Romaine

  2. Marion
    Marion November 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm . Reply

    I had my first experience with Lymphedema 10 years after my breast cancer surgery and lymph nodes removal. I woke up with a swollen arm and hand. Immed. went for massage and compression and got it under control after approx. 6 weeks. I was fitted with a compression sleeve and glove and told to wear it every day, morning to night! I did,but hated it and found it hard to work as a home health RN with the glove and sleeve on! I started swimming every day in my pool and much to the surprise of my doctors and me — no more swelling, no more sleeve or glove!!! I swim laps every day and can feel the water massaging my arm as complete the strokes! I am thankful every day that this works for me.

  3. expelis
    expelis April 6, 2014 at 6:17 pm . Reply

    very informative things has been shared here thanks for sharing

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