Skin Cancer and Lymphedema
Skin cancer and lymphedema are two conditions that can majorly impact a person’s life. Unfortunately, they often go hand in hand. May is skin cancer awareness month and an excellent time to examine how skin cancer and lymphedema can be linked. In addition, cancer treatments and cancers themselves can contribute to lymphedema. If you or someone you know is dealing with both conditions, it’s helpful to understand how they relate to and manage these conditions.
Skin Cancer Awareness Month
May is melanoma and skin cancer awareness month, a time to raise awareness and encourage safe sun protection. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US. One in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime. So as we head into warmer months with more sun, it’s an excellent time to incorporate more sun protection into your daily life. These preventative measures include seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen.
Furthermore, it may be a good time to do a skin check from head to toe. Look for anything new, changing, or unusual, and seek medical assistance if you discover anything suspicious.
What is Skin Cancer?
With over 5 million cases diagnosed yearly, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. However, it is also one of the most preventable and treatable cancers when diagnosed early. Skin cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the skin begin to grow and form tumors. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Overexposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. Other factors such as genetics, smoking, and certain medications can also be the cause.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a swelling caused by a buildup of lymph fluid in the body’s tissues. It is most commonly seen in the arms and legs but can also affect other areas. The lymphatic system carries fluid and wastes away from the body’s tissues. When this system is blocked, lymphedema can occur. Cancer treatments, genetics, or an injury can be the source of lymphedema. However, in some cases, the cause is unknown.
How are Skin Cancer and Lymphedema Related?
Skin cancer and lymphedema can be related in a few ways:
- Some types of cancer treatments, such as radiation, can damage the lymphatic system and lead to lymphedema.
- Skin cancer can increase a person’s risk of developing lymphedema due to the damage caused by the cancer.
- If cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it can cause a blockage in the lymphatic system, leading to lymphedema.
Lymphedema after Melanoma Treatment
The lymphatic system drains lymphatic fluid from the limbs, but damage or removal of lymph nodes during surgery can lead to lymphedema. This lymphedema can make it difficult for patients to complete everyday activities. Patients with lymphedema also have an increased risk of infection. Therefore, before undergoing a lymph node dissection or sentinel lymph node biopsy to treat melanoma, patients need to discuss potential risks with their doctor.
Reducing your Risk
To reduce your risk of skin cancer, it is important to practice sun safety throughout the year, especially during the summer months. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends some simple steps to protect your skin:
- Seek shade
- Dress to protect yourself by wearing hats, pants, and sunglasses.
- Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Check your skin for spots (moles, freckles, and age spots) on your body. If you notice any new or changing spots, seek medical attention.
- Know your family history of skin cancer.
Lymphedema & Skincare
Skincare is one of the essential tools for managing lymphedema. So during May, for skin cancer awareness, let’s pay a little extra attention to our skin. Self-care is not selfish. It’s necessary for managing lymphedema!
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.