Lymphedema and Leg Weakness

Last Modified: November 6, 2005

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I had cervical cancer in 1996 resulting in a radical hysterectomy and radiation treatment. The lymph nodes were also removed. I am experiencing weakness in one leg that will give out without warning or pain. Can lymphedema cause this weakness? I do have slight swelling but keep it at bay with exercise. Should I visit an oncologist for this?

Answer

Lora Packel MS, PT, Coordinator of Cancer Therapy Services for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Lymphedema generally does not cause weakness unless you are using that extremity (arm/leg) less often than usual due to the swelling, in which case the muscle might be deconditioned. Weakness in one leg can be caused by a multitude of orthopedic issues. However, with a history of cervical cancer and radiation therapy, I would strongly recommend a visit to the oncologist. If they rule out medical causes of the leg weakness, including the possibility of local disease recurrence, you could consider visiting a physical therapist who specializes in women's health and/or lymphedema.