Swollen legs can be a symptom of various health issues, including cancer. The swelling, also known as edema, is caused when fluid is trapped in the tissues of the leg. While edema is not always a sign of cancer, it is important to understand the possible reasons behind it.
Cancer as a cause of swollen legs
Certain types of cancers can cause fluid buildup, leading to swollen legs. The most common types of cancer that cause edema in the lower limbs are:
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
Cancerous tumors can put pressure on the lymphatic system or blood vessels, leading to fluid buildup in the leg tissues. In some cases, the cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, causing further swelling.
Symptoms of cancer-related leg swelling
Swollen legs caused by cancer may have the following additional symptoms:
- Redness and warmth in the affected area
- Pain or tenderness in the leg
- Visible veins
- Unexplained weight loss
Diagnosis of cancer-related leg swelling
If you notice unexplained swelling in one or both legs, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and order imaging tests like an ultrasound or a CT scan to determine the cause of your edema.
If cancer is suspected, you may undergo further diagnostic tests like a biopsy or blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Other causes of swollen legs
Not all cases of swollen legs are related to cancer. Other causes include:
Heart failure or other heart-related conditions can lead to decreased blood flow, causing fluid buildup in the legs, ankles, and feet.
Problems with the kidneys can lead to decreased urine output, causing fluid to build up in the body, including the legs.
The liver plays a critical role in filtering toxins from the body. When it is not functioning properly, fluid can build up, causing edema in the legs.
Pregnancy can cause fluid retention, leading to swelling in the legs, especially in the third trimester.
Injury or surgery
Injuries, surgeries, or infections can cause fluid buildup in the affected areas, causing swelling in the legs.
Certain medications like steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and calcium channel blockers can cause edema as a side effect.
Prevention and treatment of swollen legs
If you are experiencing swollen legs, some measures that you can take to prevent and alleviate the condition include:
- Exercising regularly
- Elevating your legs when sitting or lying down
- Wearing compression stockings
- Avoiding tight clothing
- Reducing salt intake in your diet
If cancer is the underlying cause of your swollen legs, treatment will depend on the type and stage of cancer diagnosed. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
While swollen legs can be a sign of various health issues, including cancer, it is important to understand the possible causes and seek medical attention promptly for an accurate diagnosis. Timely diagnosis and treatment can improve your prognosis and outcome.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is edema?
Edema is a medical condition characterized by the accumulation of excess fluid in the tissues of the body, causing swelling.
Can swollen legs be a symptom of cancer?
Yes. Certain types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, lung, and prostate cancer, can cause fluid buildup in the leg tissues, leading to swelling.
What are the symptoms of cancer-related leg swelling?
Cancer-related leg swelling may have additional symptoms like redness and warmth in the affected area, pain or tenderness in the leg, visible veins, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.
How is cancer-related leg swelling diagnosed?
Your doctor may perform a physical exam and order imaging tests like an ultrasound or CT scan to determine the cause of your edema. If cancer is suspected, you may undergo further diagnostic tests like a biopsy or blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
What are the treatment options for cancer-related leg swelling?
Treatment will depend on the type and stage of cancer diagnosed. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
- Bartlett, R.D. & Phillips, J.P. (2014). Leg Swelling. American Family Physician.
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Leg swelling.
- Cancer.Net. (2019). Edema or Swelling.