|Every one knows this is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but we have many clients who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer and are working diligently to make others aware. Another topic we need to be aware of is Lymphedema after Breast Cancer Therapy, but wait, Lymphedema can be caused by any change in the lymphatic system. During surgery for cancer, physicians may take out lymph nodes near the tumor to see if the cancer has spread. The lymph nodes are collectors of lymph (a clear fluid which contains proteins, salts, and water, as well as white blood cells, which help fight infections) and removing them makes it harder for lymph to move to areas where it enters the blood stream. If the remaining lymph vessels cannot remove enough of the lymph in an area, the excess fluid builds up in the fatty tissues just under the skin and causes swelling most often in the arms or legs. Radiation treatment can also affect the lymph flow by causing scarring of the vessels. The lymph fluid that collects in the skin and underlying tissues can be very uncomfortable. Lymphedema usually develops slowly and may be mild to severe. It can keep nutrients from reaching the cells, interfere with wound healing, and lead to infections.
Early on, the swelling may be relieved by raising the affected limb and the skin usually stays soft. But over time, the swollen area may become hot and red and the skin hard and stiff.
If you think you are developing Lymphedema, get to a MLD (manual lymphatic drainage) Therapist as soon a possible!! Your extremity may need to be wrapped in bandages to reduce the swelling and the therapist will do special massages to open up the lymphatic vessels remaining so the lymph will drain. Once the therapist has achieved results, the therapist will recommend compression garments (armsleeve, glove, or gauntlet for the arms and stockings – usually 20-30 mmHg or 30-40 mmHg for the legs).
Sometimes you will find you need to go back into bandages at night for a “tune-up” to maintain the control you have achieved over Lymphedema. We have a simplified solution to the bandages
I would like to leave with this thought; if you are at risk for Lymphedema, wear your compression garments!! If Lymphedema does develop, get to a MLD therapist immediately. Lymphedema will never go away, but with a good MLD Therapist and following a good program of skin care, massage, and compression garments, it can be controllable. – Thanks, Vanda