Edema is the abnormal collection of fluid beneath the skin, and was formerly known as dropsy or hydropsy. Edema produces swelling that can become very painful. It is one issue that many of us might have to deal with but that unfortunately receives very little attention from the medical community.

Some people refer to edema as fluid retention. It’s not uncommon to see the fluid building up in legs, arms, feet, hands, lungs, face, heart, and/or abdomen. Your physician or nurse should check your ankles at each visit to test for swelling.

Edema that remains unchecked can become severe enough to cause damage to your kidneys, heart and lungs.

Edema can be aggravated by general changes in your body caused by your prostate cancer and its treatment. Poor nutrition, as well as some of prostate cancer medications, can also cause edema.  Docetaxel, corticosteroids (prednisone, methylprednisolone, or hydrocortisone that are prescribed to accompany many of drugs); anabolic steroids (fluoxymesterone, testosterone, methyltestosterone); and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (ibuprofen, indomethacin, naproxen, rofecoxib, celecoxib) and thalidomide, can all cause edema.

Edema comes from either leaking fluid from your blood vessels or when your body generates more fluid than your lymphatic system is able to remove.  The removal of or damage to the lymph nodes from treatment together with the cancer itself can be responsible for the lymph system being unable to function adequately, leading to the development of the edema.

Edema can be very serious. If you experience any of the following contact your doctor immediately:

  • Wheezing, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing;
  • Chest pain or tightness;
  • Swelling or weight gain so that your clothes do not fit;
  • Rapid weight gain, such as gaining more than 5 pounds in a single day;
  • Urinating smaller amounts than usual or not passing any urine;

Whenever you are sitting or lying down, using pillows or cushions to raise your feet and legs above your heart is a primary counterstrategy to edema. If you have severe edema, lie down and rest for several hours each day with your legs elevated.  You can also limit your risk of developing edema by:

  • Modifying your diet to eliminate salt (as an alternative to salt use pepper, lemon or other herbs);
  • Avoiding foods that always overuse salt in their preparation;
  • Find someone who can give you a lymphatic drainage massage;
  • Wear elastic compression stockings during the daytime. You can purchase these at medical supply stores and pharmacies. They are sized so your first pair should be bought from a medical supply store where they can measure you for the proper fit (wear a pair of shorts to get measured). Compression stockings help push fluid back into your system. Normal stockings or pantyhose do not work. Sometimes it may be hard to put these stockings on. Try using a pair of kitchen type rubber gloves to grab the sides of the stockings to pull them up. To take them off just peel them back from the top to the toe.
  • Walking is important, and when you are sitting wiggle your toes and ankles often.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medication (diuretics) to treat your edema. Diuretics will increase the amount of water you pass in your urine. Follow the directions carefully. Check with your cardiologist to see if diuretics are ok for you.

    Restaurant food, especially fast food, is always full of large amounts of unnecessary salt: an edema creator.

Sometimes edema builds up in the abdomen and constricts breathing.  In this situation a treatment called pericentesis is performed.  If this condition develops you will need to have the fluid aspirated (removed) with a needle to allow you to breathe comfortably.