5 Things You May Not Know about Lymphedema
Lymphedema is a medical condition common among patients who have undergone breast cancer surgery and/or radiation therapy. Lymphedema develops when the lymphatic fluid “back up” in patients who have had lymph nodes removed, had cancer involvement of the lymph nodes, or had radiation to the axilla.
Here are 5 Lymphedema facts you may not know…
1. 45% of women that undergo a traditional axillary node dissection will be at risk for developing lymphedema. This procedure involves removing lymph nodes in the armpit area when cancer has spread into the lymphatic system. Axillary lymph node dissection is the most common place for lymphedema to begin.
2. Swelling is not the only symptom of Lymphedema. Other symptoms, in addition to persistent inflammation, may be present. A few of these symptoms include your arm feeling heavy and tight, a limited range of motion, dull aching in the area that radiates down your extremity, recurrent infections from things like a small cut, and hardening of the skin in the area.
3. Radiation treatment can make Lymphedema more severe. Patients that undergo radiation therapy in addition to a mastectomy, lumpectomy, sentinel lymph node biopsy, or axillary lymph node dissection are at a greater risk for developing lymphedema. However, the percentage of increase in their risk is unknown at this time.
4. There are non-surgical options for lymphedema. Non-surgical options are always recommended as a preliminary treatment, before surgery. Non-surgical treatments include range of motion exercises, elevation, lymphatic massage and drainage, compression garments, intermittent pneumatic compression devices, and multi-layered banding. These treatments can be effective in mild to moderate cases of lymphedema.
5. There are two surgical options for Lymphedema, Lymphatic-to-vascular anastomosis (LVA) and vascularized lymph node transfer (VLNT). LVA is one of the newest methods in treating lymphedema and involves your lymphatic channels being connected to nearby veins under a microscope. By creating an alternate route for your lymphatic fluid to return to your heart, lymphedema symptoms can be drastically reduced. VLNT is a surgical treatment that involves replacing lymph nodes that are damaged or removed by breast cancer treatment with healthy lymph nodes from another part of the body.
Author: Dr. Ramon Garza III and Delaney Crawford
Lymphedema is a medical condition common among patients who have undergone breast cancer surgery and/or radiation therapy.