Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Post Mastectomy Arm Swelling Anatomy

To better understand post mastectomy arm swelling, it helps to understand the anatomy of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is complex collection of vessels that carry lymph. Most of the lymph that drains from the arm must travel through the lymph vessels and lymph nodes within the armpit (axilla).

The lymphatic system performs two major functions:

  • Stores and transports cells that fight infection
  • Removes excess fluid from body tissues

The lymphatic system consists of:
  • Lymph vessels: thin vessels that drain excess fluid from the tissue and transport it to lymph glands
  • Lymph glands: also called lymph nodes, the lymph glands filter the excess fluid and store cells that fight infection

Anatomy examples:
  • Lymph nodes in the body
  • Lymph nodes that are close to the skin
  • Lymphatic system in the armpit and breast

Last Updated: Jul 7, 2009 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Post Mastectomy Arm Swelling References
  1. Galland C, Auvert JF, Flahault A, Vayssairat M. Why and how post-mastectomy edema should be quantified in patients with breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2002 Sep;75(1):87-9. [12500937]
  2. Geller BM, Vacek PM, O'Brien P, Secker-Walker RH. Factors associated with arm swelling after breast cancer surgery. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2003 Nov;12(9):921-30. [1467017]
  3. Johansson K, Tibe K, Weibull A, Newton RC. Low intensity resistance exercise for breast cancer patients with arm lymphedema with or without compression sleeve. Lymphology. 2005 Dec;38(4):167-80. [16515225]
  4. O'Brien JG, Chennubhotla SA, Chennubhotla RV. Treatment of edema. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Jun 1;71(11):2111-7. [15952439]
  5. Schulze T, Mucke J, Markwardt J, Schlag PM, Bembenek A. Long-term morbidity of patients with early breast cancer after sentinel lymph node biopsy compared to axillary lymph node dissection. J Surg Oncol. 2006 Feb 1;93(2):109-19. [16425290]
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