Although Lymphedema has afflicted the population for
centuries, little was understood about the disease. Only in the past 10
to 15 years have clinicians begun to seriously focus on it's treatment.
The lymphatic system, an offshoot of the circulatory system, develops embryologically. Fluids and protein, lipids, fat soluble vitamins, and immune cells circulate within lymphatic vessels and nodes. If lymphatic drainage is impaired, edema and protein collect in soft tissues providing a natural medium for infection.
Lymphodema is the swelling of body parts, most often an extremity, caused by the abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid.
Primary cases of Lymphedema occur from idiopathic or unknown causes. They may be present at birth (lymphedema congenital), occur later in life (lymphedema praecox) or develop after age 35 (lymphedema tarda). Some cases are familial as well as congenital.
Primary Lymphedema is more common in females and occurs more often in lower extremities.
Causes of Primary Lymphedema:
- Congenital or Hereditary Lymphedema
- Milroy's Disease
- Idiopathic Lymphedema
- Lymphedema Praecox
- Lymphedema Tarda
- Turner's Disease
- Park-Weber Syndrome
- Klipple-Trenaunay Syndrome
Secondary cases of Lymphodema is caused by injury, scarring or exclusion of the lymphatic vessels - usually as a result of previous radiation and/or surgery of the lymphatics. Occasionally, secondary Lymphedema is caused by trauma or chronic infection of the lymphatic system.
Causes of Secondary Lymphedema:
- Postsurgical Lymphedema from cancer surgery (breast, prostate, ovarian and uterine)
- DES Daughters
- Traumatic (accidents)
- RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)
- Postinflammatory Lymphedema
- Liver Disease
Lymphedema and Cancer
As cancer rates increase throughout the world, so does the incidence of Lymphedema.
Breast or abdominal surgery can result in secondary Lymphedema. Treatment, such as radiation and/or surgery commonly given for carcinoma of the breast, uterus, bladder, ovary, prostate or testicle, as well as other malignant melanomas, can produce secondary Lymphedema.
Surgical removal of a tumor and the adjacent lymph nodes and vessels can often block lymph fluid from flowing through the system. Radiation therapy is one of the leading causes of secondary Lymphedema. It can damage healthy lymph nodes and cause scar tissue to form, interrupting the normal flow of the lymphatic system.