Lymphedema is a chronic condition that occurs when there is structural damage or functional loss of the lymphatic system. It often impacts cancer patients, especially those who have lymph nodes removed or damaged due to part of their treatment. The condition is most commonly associated with breast cancer patients but can also result from the treatment of other cancers.
While lymphedema can be painful, with proper treatment and preventive measures, the condition can be prevented, managed, and sometimes even reversed. It is not a curable condition but is manageable.
Patients are encouraged to seek treatment at the first signs of lymphedema. Treatment is dependent on the cause of lymphedema and the outcomes of treatment are often influenced significantly by early intervention. The treatment often involves physical techniques to manage the condition and to optimize tissue health including:
- Manual lymph drainage technique or decongestive treatment (self-massage)
- Short stretch bandaging and padding
- Diet and weight management
- Limb elevation
- Skin precautions to prevent infections
- Aquatic therapy
- Modalities as needed including Kinesio-taping, cold laser, and pneumatic pumps
Patients should compare their arms and hands by looking at them in the mirror or measuring their circumferences at the major joints including shoulder, elbow, wrist, hands, and fingers. Learn to recognize what is normal for you so you can notice changes right away. If lymphedema does develop or any abnormal swelling in the area, notify your doctor right away and request to see a lymphedema specialist for treatment.