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What’s Lymphedema Got to Do With It?

  • Category: In The News
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  • Written By: Gabrielle Cox
What’s Lymphedema Got to Do With It?

Breast cancer awareness is important even after a diagnosis and treatment, so be sure you’re asking the right questions. Question number one, what does lymphedema have to do with saving the tatas?

Let’s start with the basics. What is Lymphedema?

Lymph is a thin, clear, protein-rich fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove wastes, bacteria and other substances from tissues. Lymphedema is a form of swelling that is the result of excessive lymph fluid collecting in an area of the body.

How does lymphedema affect women with breast cancer?

Some women who’ve undergone breast cancer surgery or radiation are at risk of developing lymphedema. Surgery and radiation can remove or damage lymph nodes and vessels that can then cause a blockage in the lymphatic system. This blockage results in a backup of lymph fluid, leading to lymphedema. Lymphedema creates abnormal swelling in the body that may present in the arm, hand, breast or torso on the same side as the affected breast(s). In some cases, lymphedema may take months or even years to develop after breast cancer treatments or procedures, while some women may never develop lymphedema.

What are the symptoms associated with lymphedema?

  • Swelling of part or all of the affected breast, torso, arm, hand or fingers
  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Recurring infections

When should I see a doctor?

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, consult your doctor or surgeon immediately. Early detection is crucial for successful outcomes and recovery. If left untreated, lymphedema symptoms will progressively worsen and can cause permanent changes to tissues, such as skin thickening and scarring, as well as result in pain and impairments of the affected limb.

Your doctor may refer you to a certified lymphedema physical therapist as part of your treatment plan. North Oaks Physical Therapist Marlena Matherne at North Oaks Outpatient Rehabilitation Services is a certified lymphedema therapist and may be able to alleviate symptoms.

How can a lymphedema therapist help me?

A lymphedema therapist may be consulted prior to or after breast cancer surgery. During pre-operative appointments, a lymphedema therapist can:

  • Record baseline measurements of your arm/hand.
  • Assess the strength and mobility of your arm and upper body.
  • Teach appropriate stretching and flexibility exercises to maintain or improve range of motion of the extremities and trunk to assist in prevention of postsurgical stiffness.
  • Educate you about regarding the signs and symptoms of lymphedema and what to do if you experience them.
  • Set up a schedule of return visits as needed to monitor post-operative recovery.
  • Create a custom treatment plan in the event lymphedema symptoms develop.

How will a lymphedema therapist address my swollen arm?

Treatments are based on the severity of lymphedema and may include: compression sleeves or bandages, exercises, manual techniques and pumps that will help reroute lymph fluid and reduce limb size. Education on skin care and protection will also be completed to prevent common complications that can occur in individuals with lymphedema.

For more information about lymphedema, call (985) 230-6160, or contact your provider for a referral to North Oaks Rehabilitation Services.