Lymphedema is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery or radiation therapy, and can appear months or even years after the treatment. Lymphedema occurs on excessive collection of, causing swelling. Swelling is a regular side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy. In typical cases, this swelling lasts for a few weeks after treatment, pertaining to the treatment area, and heals with time. However, if the swelling persists for a longer time and seems to spread to areas not involved in treatment, such as the entire arm, underarm, chest or upper body,it indicates a lymphedema. Generally, lymphedema appears within 1-5 years after treatment, but its risk doesn’t disappear completely.
Just as with breast cancer, early detection of lymphedema increases the chances of successfully treating it. The first symptom to notice is a minor change in the circumference of the arm; many a times this goes unnoticed. This makes it necessary for patients to be observant. Other signs and symptoms include pain, tingling or discomfort in the hand, arm, chest, breast or underarms, heaviness in these areas, slight puffiness or swelling, decreased flexibility in nearby joints, tenderness in the elbow and ‘bursting’ or ‘shooting’ pain sensations.
With Compression Therapy, it is most certainly possible to reduce or avoid swelling of arms or legs caused by lymphedema.
Compression given either manually or using a machine can be helpful in the short term reduction of lymphedema.
At Orchids, we provide massages to soothe the pain and reduce the swelling. We help patients with the right exercise charts that are used to reduce its risk. We also show them how to manually drain the swelling from the affected areas.
We have a special lymphedema management device that is used to reduce or avoid swelling. It consists of a pump that supplies air to the garments worn over the areas of the body being treated for lymphedema. This pump uses alternating waves of compression with brief pauses, and refill to aid in drainage of lymph back in circulations. This technique is as efficient as it is safe.
Yes – exercise, especially stretching, strength training and aerobic exercises have been found to reduce lymphedema risk considerably. It is important to chart the right exercise plan.
Being overweight increases the risk of lymphedema after treatment. Therefore, losing weight (by consulting your doctor) and proper nutrition can go a long way. Areas subject to lymphedema treatment should be protected against extreme temperatures, cuts, injury and overuse. Thus being observant and following a healthy diet is highly recommended.