Lymphedema Network of Excellence
For appointment information please contact 206-598-6222. A knowledgeable team member will assist you.
We produce approximately 3 liters of lymph per day in our bodies. Lymph is a fluid that comes from the circulatory system and its function is to clear the soft tissues of any impurities, such as bacteria, cancer cells and many other cell types. Lymph is collected in lymphatic channels, which are small vessels, akin to but smaller than arteries and veins. The lymph is then transported to the regional lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are part of our immune system and are essentially filters. These filters trap whatever the lymphatic fluid brings to them and the body’s immune system deals with these products. This is why, for example, lymph nodes are targeted in cancer treatment: cancer cells can be transported to lymph nodes and these nodes are sometimes removed or radiated to kill the cancer cells.
Lymphedema is a condition in which the lymphatic system is compromised. This can happen for many different reasons. The most common cause world-wide is a condition called Filariasis, an infestation by a type of worm, a nematode, that is endemic in certain parts of the world. In the United States, the two most common causes are congenital, meaning someone is born with the condition, or acquired, when the condition arises from anything that impacts the lymphatic system. There are several different presentations of congenital lymphedema: Milroy Disease or TYPE 1, Lymphedema, and Type 2 lymphedema, which can present in the teen years as Lymphedema Praecox, and Lymphedema Tarda, which presents in the 30’s or later.
The most common type of acquired lymphedema is related to surgery in cancer patients, often when combined with radiation. The most common types of cancer patients we see are breast cancer, pelvic cancers, head and neck cancers, and melanoma.
There is also an association between morbid obesity and lymphedema, particularly as it applies to the lower extremities. The first priority for these patients is to lose weight, either through diet and exercise or bariatric surgery.