Simply put, lymphedema is a fluid traffic jam. When your lymphatic system isn't working or gets blocked, fluid that normally travels throughout your body gets stuck, causing issues. In the United States, cancer and cancer treatment (especially removal of lymph nodes) are the leading causes of lymphedema.
The first warning sign of lymphedema isn't always swelling – it's often pain. One of the biggest misconceptions is thinking you can't have lymphedema if you don't have swelling, but you can. Clinical stage zero lymphedema means symptoms without evidence of swelling, and it's easier to treat at this point. Lymphedema is rarely fatal, but it can be very uncomfortable and painful. There's no known cure, but we can effectively treat it. A multidisciplinary team consisting of a plastic surgeon, vascular surgeon, oncologist and lymphedema therapist is the best way to tackle the complexity of this issue.
For the longest time, there hasn't been a surgical treatment for lymphedema. Now we have some options to hopefully help improve a patient's quality of life.