Data Show an Increased Risk of Skin Cancer in Patients with Lower Extremity Lymphedema


According to the authors, these results contribute to developing information that associate lymphedema with localized changes in immunity and a susceptibility for cancer.

Research by investigators at the Mayo Clinic demonstrated that patients with lymphedema compared to those without had twice the risk of developing skin cancer. Further, patients with lymphedema had a much higher frequency of developing both basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas on lower extremities.

Patient with lymphedema in their leg

Image credit: petiast |

Lymphedema, which can be caused by surgery and cancer treatments that either remove or damage the lymph nodes, consists of swelling of the limbs resulting from the accumulation of protein-rich fluids of the immune system. Lymphedema can also be caused by inherited conditions; however, that is significantly less common.

"Patients with lymphedema are not screened routinely by dermatologists, and inadequate screening may lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment," said senior study author Afsaneh Alavi, MD, dermatologist at Mayo Clinic, in a press release. "Our findings suggest the need for a relatively high degree of suspicion of skin cancer at sites with lymphedema.”

The retrospective study evaluated data from 4437 patients who were diagnosed with lower extremity lymphedema. Patients were divided into 2 groups, the lymphedema group and matched control group. Study results demonstrated that the patients with lymphedema had an increased risk of skin cancer compared to those in the control group. Further, for patients who had lymphedema in 1 leg, that extremity was nearly 3 times as likely to have skin cancer compared to the other leg.

The investigators note that the study contributes to developing information linking lymphedema to localized changes in immunity and a predisposition for cancer. In addition, the investigators address that although skin cancer is the most common cancer, few studies examine the prevalence of lower extremity skin cancer.

“There is a need for raising awareness in clinicians seeing patients with lymphedema, and these patients may need regular skin cancer screenings, since early detection of skin cancer is critical," said Alavi in the press release.


Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic study suggests lower extremity lymphedema is a risk factor for multiple types of skin cancer. News release. November 9, 2023. Accessed November 9, 2023.

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