LYMPHEDEMA AFTER BREAST CANCER
Breast cancer is one of the most common types affecting women today. About one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer throughout her lifetime. During surgery to treat the tumor, lymph nodes are often removed, which can disrupt the flow of lymph and cause swelling. The lymph nodes may also be treated with radiation which can cause damage to the lymphatic system. This does not always occur after surgery or radiation, as sometimes it appears months or even years later. As a result, it’s common for breast cancer patients to develop lymphedema. Knowing your risk factor for this condition and ways to reduce your risk is essential.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF GETTING LYMPHEDEMA?
There is no way to know for sure what your chances are of developing lymphedema. However, the good news is that researchers and healthcare professionals are continually developing new and better surgical treatments. Therefore, the cases of lymphedema today are significantly reduced. Most people do not get lymphedema since modern surgery removes fewer axillary lymph nodes than before. The more nodes removed, the greater the risk. Axillary node dissection removes more lymph nodes and gives you a higher chance of developing lymphedema. Sentinel lymph node biopsy removes only a few lymph nodes to check for cancer and gives you less than a 5% chance of developing lymphedema. When lymph nodes are removed, you will always be at higher risk for lymphedema.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF LYMPHEDEMA
The main symptom of lymphedema after breast cancer is swelling in the arm on the affected side. The amount of swelling can vary. A feeling of fullness, heaviness, or tightness in the arm, armpit, or chest may also occur. Clothing or jewelry that feels tight or doesn’t fit may also indicate the development of lymphedema. Do you have trouble bending or moving your joints? Does your arm feel weak or heavy? Do you have aching or pain in your arm that was not there before? These are all signs to look for when at risk for lymphedema. If you do notice any of these conditions, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner lymphedema is diagnosed and treated, the easier it is to manage.
REDUCING YOUR RISK OF LYMPHEDEMA AFTER BREAST CANCER
Although there is no proven way to prevent lymphedema, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk after breast cancer. First, it’s essential to be aware of the risk and seek care if you notice any signs or symptoms.
You can also maintain a healthy body weight and eat a low-sodium diet. Keep your skin clean and well moisturized by reducing the risk of infection or injury that can trigger lymphedema, especially in affected areas. Do not use an at-risk arm for blood draws, get injections, or have your blood pressure taken. Avoid wearing tight or restrictive clothing or jewelry. Always seek medical attention at the first sign of infection, such as redness, fever, pain, or increased swelling.
Talk with your healthcare provider about other ways to help prevent lymphedema. Make these precautions a part of your life. Compare your hands and arms regularly. Learn what is normal for you so that you can seek medical help if you see changes as soon as possible.
BE AWARE – KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
There is no way to know whether or not you will develop lymphedema after breast cancer, but early detection is key to treating and managing lymphedema. Be aware knowledge is power, and self-care is essential.
Dr. Marisa Weiss, chief medical officer and founder of Breastcancer.org, says, “I can say from experience that the time right after diagnosis when you are considering options and planning treatment, is a blur. Feeling so anxious and overwhelmed makes it hard to listen, understand, and decide. So even if lymphedema gets mentioned during this time, you may not remember it. Or it may not come up because the focus is on getting you well. So if lymphedema does develop later on, it can feel like yet another insult to the body, one that many women weren’t fully prepared for. The good news is that women can learn how to manage it and lead everyday lives.“
Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.