Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lymphedema - An Ongoing Common Side-effect of Breast Cancer Treatment

Scotland Forest. Photo by Dr. Guerra
There is recent evidence to suggest that lymphedema, a condition that can result from having lymph nodes removed or radiated as part of breast cancer treatment, is something that many patients and their families are often told little or nothing about.  Some recovering breast cancer patients only find out about lymphedema at some point after their surgery, from a concerned nurse, blood draw technician, internist or fellow cancer survivor.

Lymphedema refers to "the build-up of fluid in soft body tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked". (See www.cancer.gov - National Cancer Institute). Symptoms in a breast cancer survivor include swelling and/or a heavy feeling in the arm, a tight feeling in the skin and trouble moving a joint in the arm. When a person is at increased risk for lymphedema, she always has to be thoughtful about physical activity involving that arm such as gardening, household chores and working out in a gym. Anything that will cause the build-up of lymph in the arm (e.g. cuts, scrapes, bug bites, heavy lifting, hot tubs), has to be monitored or avoided, in order to avoid the possibility of inflammation and lymphedema.  Blood pressure checks and blood labs have to be done using the other arm.

Mainstream breast cancer treatment in its current form - the gift that keeps on giving.

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