Does Radiation Therapy Cause Lymphedema?

In this video, Dr. Lawenda explains the various treatments that contribute to increased lymphedema risk, including radiation therapy.

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Brian D. Lawenda, MD: Lymphedema can come from multiple different reasons, for treatment of breast cancer.  It can come from treatment to the axilla, from radiation treatment, it can also come from surgery, and, unfortunately, it can also come from when you do both treatments together.

In fact it is much more common if you are to do both extensive surgery to the armpit area or even a sentinel lymph node residue which is less extensive than an older procedure, which was the axillary lymph node dissection, which is still done but for more involvement of the lymph node region by cancer.

When we have to radiate the armpit area or the axillary area, we increased the risk of developing lymphedema, may be at least 50%, and if we were to have to radiate the area above the clavicle, we also increased the risk of developing lymphedema as well.  So, radiation is known to cause lymphedema and so it is something that we have to counsel our patients very carefully about.

Dr. Brian D. Lawenda is a Board Certified Radiation Oncologist who has been in practice over six years. He currently practices as a member of 21st Century Oncology at locations in Henderson and Las Vegas, NV. Prior to joining 21st Century Oncology, Doctor Lawenda served as the clinical director of the Radiation Oncology department and the department head of the Breast Health Center, at at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Doctor Lawenda began his education at Temple University Medical School and after graduating with honors (AOA) he went on to a general surgery internship at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. He later completed his residency and served as the Chief Resident in Radiation Oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard Medical School/Dana Farber Cancer Institute).

Doctor Lawenda was Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Department of Radiation Oncology at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Radiology and Radiological Science at the Uniformed University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD and a distinguished former Commander in the U.S. Navy.

His clinical interests are stereotactic body/brain radiosurgery (SBRT/SABR, SRS), breast cancer, benign and malignant brain tumors, head and neck cancers, lung cancer, prostate cancer and Integrative Oncology, an exciting new sub-specialty in the field of oncology centered on a holistic approach to cancer care and best evidence-based treatments

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