Truncal lymphedema is often a misdiagnosed condition. Aside from the fact that its symptoms resemble to those of post-treatment symptoms, it’s also a form of lymphedema that is poorly documented and not often reported.

Understanding Truncal Lymphedema

Truncal lymphedema usually develops in women following breast cancer surgery. However, it may also develop after lung cancer treatment. Truncal lymphedema usually occur after these treatments as they often disrupt the lymphatic drainage pathways whether there is a complete or partial removal of the axillary lymph nodes. This causes swelling in the breast wall and chest area.

Scars following breast surgery like lumpectomy, mastectomy, or reconstructive breast surgery can cause further disruption of the natural lymphatic drainage pattern. Radiation treatments may also lead to the development of truncal lymphedema as it can cause formation of fibrotic tissues in the chest wall or armpit.

What To Look For

Many women find it hard to distinguish the difference between the normal post-operative edema and lymphedema resulting to delayed treatment of the condition. Hence, it is important to have a thorough assessment of the anterior and posterior aspects of the thorax following breast surgery. It’s also important to watch out for the pain especially in the shoulder area and the swelling on the anterior chest wall, back, and arm.

With truncal lymphedema, the swelling on the chest wall usually manifest on the breast area, over the collar bone, under the arm, and upper portion of the adjacent arm. The swelling that may appear at the back could appear as rolls of fat along the side of the trunk.

Managing Truncal Lymphedema

Most of the symptoms associated with truncal lymphedema can be managed with manual lymphatic drainage, exercise, and compression therapy.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage

This is a form of gentle massage that helps promote the natural drainage of the lymph. It aims to move the fluid from the swollen area to an area where there is ‘normal’ flow of the lymph.

There are different types of manual lymphatic drainage. These include Vodder, Leduc, and Casley-Smith.


There are certain exercises that can help in reducing the swelling in women with truncal lymphedema. Although the effectivity of the exercise depends on the affected site, aerobic exercises and proper breathing techniques are shown to be effective in improving the flow of the lymph.

Compression Therapy

Wearing of compression garments like compression vest helps in addressing the issue of fluid accumulation.

It’s important to choose well the compression garments to use so as not to compromise the blood supply to the healing scar or graft.

Bioflect Therapy Garments can help support the swelling and fluid buildup as a result of truncal lymphedema. These therapeutic garments are created using the unique FIR therapy fabric. Providing comfortable compression, these compression garments from Bioflect are ideal for those with truncal lymphedema.

Image: Sodanie Chea

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