Lymphoedema is swelling in the head or neck that can happen after treatment for head and neck cancer.
Symptoms of head and neck lymphoedema may include:
What causes lymphoedema?
swollen eyes, face, lips, neck or chin
feeling heavy or tight in your neck or face
trouble moving your neck or jaw
difficulty swallowing, speaking or breathing.
Lymph nodes are small glands found around our body that help to filter out bacteria and drain fluid out of your body. Lymphoedema happens when lymph nodes in the neck are not working properly, causing fluid to build up in the area. This may happen because:
lymph nodes were removed during surgery
lymph nodes were damaged during radiotherapy
cancer has caused a blockage in the lymph nodes and vessels in your neck.
You are more likely to get lymphoedema if you have both surgery and radiation therapy, and if both sides of your neck are treated.
How is lymphoedema treated?
Treatment for lymphoedema aims to reduce the swelling and prevent it from getting worse.
Treatments for lymphoedema may include:
massage designed to drain fluid from the affected area. This is called manual lymphatic drainage
exercises to help with head and neck movement
compression bandages to help reduce swelling
skin care to prevent infection in the swollen skin.
If you have lymphoedema, you may have one or more of these treatments.
Where can I find support?
You should always tell your doctor if you notice swelling in your face or neck. They can arrange for you to have tests to find out the cause.
Your doctor may recommend that you get help from a health professional who has expertise in treating lymphoedema, such as a lymphoedema nurse or physiotherapist.
A nurse or physiotherapist with special expertise in treating lymphoedema can: