OVARIAN CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
When we think of ovarian cancer, we often focus on its devastating impact on a woman’s reproductive organs. However, there is a lesser-known aftermath that many survivors face: lymphedema. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes swelling in specific body parts due to a compromised lymphatic system. For ovarian cancer survivors, lymphedema typically affects their legs and pelvis.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other female reproductive system cancer. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78. Ovarian cancer is often called a silent killer because its symptoms can be subtle or easily dismissed, leading to late-stage diagnosis and reduced chances of successful treatment. What are your risks?
RISK FACTORS OF OVARIAN CANCER
First, let’s take a look at the risk factors for Ovarian Cancer. The factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Older age. The risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age.
- Inherited gene changes. A small percentage of ovarian cancers are caused by gene changes you inherit from your parents.
- Family history of ovarian cancer. If you have blood relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you may have an increased risk of the disease.
- Being overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy. Taking hormone replacement therapy to control menopause signs and symptoms may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Endometriosis. Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus.
- Age when menstruation started and ended. Beginning menstruation at an early age, starting menopause at a later age, or both may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Never having been pregnant. If you’ve never been pregnant, you may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
OVARIAN CANCER & LYMPHEDEMA
Depending on the diagnostic methods, Lymphedema in Ovarian Cancer Survivors is estimated between 28% and 40%. We must first grasp the lymphatic system’s role to understand how ovarian cancer and lymphedema intersect. The lymphatic system acts as a drainage network for the body, carrying excess fluid, waste products, and immune cells away from tissues, filtering them, and returning them to the bloodstream. However, during the treatment of ovarian cancer, the lymphatic system can be damaged, leading to lymphedema.
Surgery, one of the primary treatment methods for ovarian cancer, can involve removing lymph nodes, disrupting lymphatic vessels, or damaging the remaining lymphatic system. Additionally, radiation therapy, commonly used in ovarian cancer treatment, can further harm the lymphatic system. As a result, the flow of lymphatic fluid is impaired, leading to its accumulation in the affected areas.
The onset of lymphedema may vary among ovarian cancer survivors. Some may experience swelling immediately after surgery or radiation treatment, while others may develop symptoms months or years later. The severity of lymphedema can also differ from person to person, ranging from mild discomfort to significant swelling that affects daily activities and quality of life.
SIGNS OF LYMPHEDEMA
Recognizing the signs of lymphedema is crucial for early diagnosis and management. Initially, affected individuals may notice a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the affected limb, followed by swelling that can progress over time. Other symptoms include a decreased range of motion, skin thickening, and recurrent infections in the affected area. Prompt medical attention is necessary to prevent further progression and complications.
TREATMENT FOR LYMPHEDEMA
Treatment for lymphedema in ovarian cancer survivors typically involves a combination of approaches. Manual lymphatic drainage, a gentle massage technique, redirects the accumulated fluid to unaffected lymph nodes. Physical therapy exercises can also help manage symptoms and improve mobility.
Additionally, compression therapy involving compression garments or bandages can aid in reducing swelling and maintaining lymphatic flow. Products we have found very effective for pelvic and upper leg lymphedema are a combination of compression shorts or capris with a foam chip pad. Sigvaris CompreShort and CompreShort Capris are two of our best sellers. You get even better results when combined with a Sigvaris Genefit Female Chip Pad. This chip pad pressed into the affected area by the compression helps break up the lymphatic fluid and move it out of the body. Wear Ease also makes several different compression shorts and capris styles to fit various body sizes and types.
HOPE ON THE HORIZON
While lymphedema associated with ovarian cancer treatment poses significant challenges, hope is on the horizon. Researchers continuously explore new techniques and interventions to improve outcomes for ovarian cancer survivors. For instance, recent studies have investigated new surgical approaches that minimize damage to the lymphatic system, such as sentinel node biopsy. Additionally, advancements in imaging technology may allow for earlier detection of lymphedema, enabling timely interventions. As our understanding of this complex condition expands, so does the potential for improved management and quality of life for survivors.
SUPPORT AND EDUCATION
Support and education are vital components of managing lymphedema. Before commencing treatment, ovarian cancer survivors should receive comprehensive information about this potential side effect. They should also be made aware of resources and support networks available to help navigate the challenges associated with lymphedema. Collaboration between healthcare professionals, such as oncologists, surgeons, and lymphedema specialists, ensures a multidisciplinary approach to patient care.
EMPOWERING WOMEN WITH KNOWLEDGE
Spotlighting Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month can help to empower women with knowledge and encourage early detection and prevention. The connection between ovarian cancer and lymphedema is a lesser-known aspect of the cancer journey that deserves attention. Ovarian cancer survivors must be well-informed about the potential risks of lymphedema and the available strategies for prevention and management. Through continued research, improved surgical techniques, and enhanced support systems, we can strive to minimize lymphedema’s impact on ovarian cancer survivors’ lives, allowing them to live their lives to the fullest.
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.