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Swelling of your legs or genitals (lymphoedema) and penile cancer

Some people get swelling in one or both legs after radiotherapy or surgery to the lymph nodes in the groin and pelvis. Sometimes swelling can also be in the lower part of the tummy (abdomen), penis or sac of skin around the testicles (the scrotum).

This swelling is called lymphoedema (lim-fo-dee-ma).

The lymph nodes are part of your body's drainage system. If you have had lymph nodes removed from your groin, this can affect the natural circulation and drainage of tissue fluid from the leg on that side.

Pain and heaviness

Lymphoedema can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Swelling that causes pressure on nerves can cause pain. If your leg is heavy, it can cause problems with walking and your posture. This can cause pain in your joints or other parts of the body. 

Lymphoedema is easier to manage as soon as any signs of swelling appear. If you see any swelling in your feet, legs, tummy or genitals speak to your GP or doctor at the hospital. They can refer you to a lymphoedema specialist.

The British Lymphology Society (BLS) has a register of UK lymphoedema practitioners. 

Emotional effects

For many people having lymphoedema can be a difficult side effect to cope with. You might feel upset or very sad when you get swelling. These feelings are natural. Talking to a lymphoedema therapist can help you to cope with the changes that you have.

You can also contact a support organisation like the Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN).

Exercises for lymphoedema

We know from research that exercise helps lymph move through the lymphatic system. This might help reduce swelling. Exercise makes the muscles contract and pushes lymph through the lymph vessels.

Exercises have other benefits. They can help you to keep a full range of movement and make you feel better.

Your physiotherapist or nurse will show you some exercises you can do at home if you have lymphoedema. 

Below are 2 videos that can help you with these exercises. Both are by a physiotherapist called Carla from the lymphoedema team at University College Hospital London. Speak to your doctor or lymphoedema specialist if you are unsure about doing any of them.

The first video shows you how to do breathing exercises. The second video shows you how to do leg exercises. It is important to do the breathing exercises before and after the leg exercises. 

These exercises should not be painful, so you must stop them if you have any pain. If the pain doesn't get better contact your doctor. Do each exercise slowly and gently, and it may help to rest in between.

The video about deep breathing exercises is 1 minute long.

The video about leg exercises is just over 4 minutes long.

Lowering your risk of swelling and managing it

The risk of getting swelling (lymphoedema) lasts for life after treatment to your lymph nodes. It can come on years after your treatment. 

You can help to lower your risk of swelling by not getting any skin infections. Infections trigger swelling in the area and that can cause more swelling in the leg.

A lymphoedema specialist can help you manage the lymphoedema, as well as give you advice and emotional support.

Last reviewed: 
03 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
03 Feb 2024
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