New research from Mayo Clinic finds that patients with lymphedema —swelling of the limbs caused by the accumulation of protein-rich fluids of the immune system — had twice the risk of developing skin cancer than patients without lymphedema.

Lymphedema can be caused by surgery or cancer treatments that remove or damage the lymph nodes, which carry fluids of the immune system. But it can also be caused by inherited conditions. Skin cancers are the most common cancer type. Skin cancer, or the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, leads the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.

Patients who already have lymphedema had a significantly higher frequency of developing basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas on the lower extremities, according to this new retrospective study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The study contributes to growing information linking lymphedema to localized changes in immunity and a predisposition for cancer. This information should be shared with those living with lymphedema as it warrants the need for screening. And subsequently, clinicians who are caring for patients with lower-extremity lymphedema should be aware of this increased risk and monitor at-risk patients accordingly.

The study reviewed data from 4,437 patients who were diagnosed with lower extremity lymphedema at Mayo Clinic in Rochester from 2000 to 2020. Compared with a matched control group of patients without lower-extremity lymphedema, the group with lymphedema had an increased risk of skin cancer, and for patients who had

lymphedema in one leg, that extremity was nearly three times as likely to have skin cancer compared with the other leg.

More information is better than no information, so it’s important to be aware that patients with lymphedema have twice the risk for skin cancer than patients without lymphedema. We expect that future studies and investigations are needed to understand the pathogenesis of cancer in this population to help guide individualized management of skin cancer in patients with lymphedema. To learn more about lymphedema, visit Lymphedema (


Mayo Clinic study suggests lower extremity lymphedema is a risk factor for multiple types of skin cancer – Mayo Clinic News Network