Lymphedema is a swelling of a limb, usually the arm. However, lymphedema also can affect the shoulder, neck, breast and trunk areas, and hand and fingers.
Lymphedema occurs because lymph nodes that have been removed from the axillary area (the armpit) during a lumpectomy or mastectomy have caused the lymphatic system to become unbalanced. In effect, lymphedema can be visualized as a plumbing problem ó more fluid is coming into the arm than can leave the arm. As the fluid builds up in the soft tissues of the affected area, the arm swells with fluid.