If you have recently undergone a lymph node biopsy or lymphadenectomy as part of a skin cancer surgery, you may be wondering about the long-term ramifications of living without a lymph node. Although it is perfectly possible to live a normal life afterwards, you should keep an eye out for these signs of complications following your procedure.
Examining Your Remaining Lymph Nodes Regularly
Even if your skin cancer seems to be entirely cleared after surgery, your physician should show you how to check your lymph nodes to catch any changes quickly. You will also need to monitor your skin for discoloration, growths or sores. This, combined with routine checkups, will not only alert you to potentially new cancerous cells but also to any complications within your lymphatic system. Swelling, fever, weight loss and itchiness are all possible signs of lymphoma, so call your doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Guarding Against Illness and Infections
The lymphatic system functions as part of your larger immune system. Lymph vessels collect unwelcome invaders in your body, such as bacteria or viruses, and transport them to your lymph nodes to be destroyed and flushed from your system. When one or more of your lymph nodes is removed, your body's ability to fight off infections and illnesses is proportionally lessened. Usually, the difference is small enough to be almost unnoticeable, but if you are undergoing chemotherapy as well, your immune system could be further compromised. During this period, as your body adjusts and recovers, take even minor illnesses seriously, and don't hesitate to visit a doctor if you experience troubling symptoms.
Watching For Symptoms of Lymphedema
Lymphedema occurs when the lymph vessels that used to connect to a removed lymph node have nowhere to go. If your lymphatic system is stressed or overactive, lymph fluid can build up in those vessels, leading to blockages and swelling. Typical symptoms of lymphedema include swelling, aching limbs and frequent infections. Although there is no guaranteed cure for lymphedema, its effects can be lessened through regular exercise, massage therapy and compression wraps. One study found that around 10 percent of melanoma patients developed lymphedema after surgery.
Losing a lymph node is never ideal, but it is typically far preferable to allowing your cancer to spread. As you recover from your skin cancer surgery, keep in touch with your physician to monitor the results and manage any symptoms that develop. With a little luck, your cancer will never return, and you will be able to live normally with no adverse effects within just a few months of undergoing treatment.