When you think of lymphedema, you probably think of an arm or a leg. You might think of the neck or chest. But the genitals?
Few people think of swelling in this area, but it can & does happen. Though not nearly as often as other body parts, I have addressed this area in both men & women. It’s extremely embarrassing for patients to have lymphedema here. But anywhere there are lymphatic vessels, there is potential for lymphedema. In the case of cancer, removal of inguinal nodes (lymph nodes in the groin) &/or radiation can contribute to development of genital lymphedema. Embarrassment is just one complication.
When there’s swelling, things can get messy. Urine flow may be misdirected (particularly in men). Clothing can be uncomfortable, mobility can be impaired & simply getting comfortable sitting can be a challenge. What about sexual function? What about body image & self-esteem? What about radiation burn, hypersensitivity or open wounds due to cancer? These are all subjects with which a therapist can help.
Everyone will present in their own way. For unconventional approaches, sometimes a therapist might get creative to problem-solve a solution (for example, designing a donut-shaped pillow for sitting if there’s a wound, discussing wound dressing options & infection prevention). In most cases, compression is needed to maximize volume reduction in additional to manual lymph drainage. Bandaging, foam inserts & compression shorts are all potential options depending on your situation. Other modalities such as cupping may be utilized as well to help break up fibrosis (firm skin caused by a scarring process).
If you’re struggling with this type of swelling or if you know someone who has had genital cancer & so may be at risk, know treatment is available. Click here (go to page 3) to see excellent videos about patients dealing with genital lymphedema. One man affectionately called his compression “ball crushers.” Now doesn’t that sound inviting?
Additional reading for men (caution – graphic content): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963354/
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