Post-Hysterectomy Lymphedema Risk

John Han-Chih Chang, MD and Kenneth Blank, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Question:

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
I had 25 lymph nodes removed with a hysterectomy for uterine cancer. What happens when lymph nodes are removed. Does the body reroute lymph passages to compensate or does lymph flow to that area and just stagnate.
Much thanks for any help.

Answer:

Ken Blank, MD, and John Han-Chih Chang, MD, OncoLink Editorial Assistants, respond:

Thank you for your question.

The lymphatic drainage to any body area (the arm or leg, for example) is comprised of many vessels through which the lymph can flow. Therefore, when lymph nodes are removed as part of a cancer operation the lymphatic flow is usually re-routed to neighboring lymphatics. However, a complete lymph node removal can cause the lymphatic flow to stagnate, which causes lymphedema (swelling). This side effect is most commonly seen after a complete axillary nodal dissection for breast cancer. It is a rare event after pelvic lymph node removal in endometrial (uterine) cancer.

For tips on preventing the occurrence of lymphedema please see:

OncoTip: Preventing Lymphedema


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