Lymphoedema (which is also spelled lymphedema) is a common side effect of breast cancer treatment that many breast cancer survivors live with.
What is Lymphoedema? How does it happen?
Our body’s lymphatic drainage system protects us from infection and disease by carrying fluid through our body. Our lymph glands, or nodes, are the filters of this system. When the lymph nodes are removed during surgery for breast cancer – usually from our armpit or chest, or damaged by radiotherapy, the way fluid moves through the lymphatic system changes.
The change in our lymph nodes can cause a build-up of fluid in the arm and chest, and swelling. This build-up of fluid is called lymphoedema.
Why Should You Care About Lymphedema?
Be Uplifted Inc’s own Ambassador, Sista With Style, Katrina, has been very open about her own battle with lymphedema.
Very recent studies show that this painful condition affects up to 41% of breast cancer patients.
Research agrees that those with higher risk for breast cancer-associated lymphedema include breast cancer patients who had:
The swelling caused by lymphoedema may not occur right away.
Lymphedema cannot be cured, only managed to reduce the swelling and discomfort caused.
Therefore, for those breast cancer survivors whose treatment included removal or damage of the lymph nodes, it is important to avoid adding strain to the lymphatic system.
Lymphoedema usually develops gradually and can occur at any time. In fact, studies show that these risk factors for the development of breast cancer-related lymphedema have been shown to increase over time, especially in the first year after surgery.
The early symptoms of lymphoedema may come and go, depending on things like how active you are and how hot it is.
While post-surgical swelling is not a symptom of lymphedema.
These are the usual symptoms any breast cancer patient should look for:
While guidelines suggest using the arm as normally as possible, they do suggest that for an arm at risk to lymphoma there are many things a breast cancer survivor can do to protect themselves from lymphoma occurring.
These are some of the best tips to avoid lymphodema
Take care of your skin
Gentle, regular exercise greatly assists in the treatment of lymphoedema. Muscle movement increases lymph flow and reduces the risk of fluid accumulating.
Out and about
These are fact sheets for breast cancer patients about Lymphoedema provide detailed information.
Westmead Breast Cancer Institute Factsheet
This 12-page brochure includes helpful diagrams and detailed advice for treating lymphedema, plus describes with pictures helpful ways to look after your arm and skin.
Breast Cancer Network Australia Factsheet
A factsheet with especially good advice on managing your lymphoedema risk during travel and subsidies for compression garments.
Cancer Australia’s Guide to Lymphoedema
This Guide covers Lymphoedema caused by all kinds of cancers and provides tips for managing your lymphoedema plus a checklist of questions to ask your doctor.
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