It always amazes me when talking to cancer patients that they know so little about lymphedema. Even though it is addressed at the Cancer Clinic as a workshop to attend after your surgery, it seems to disappear down the list of issues to be aware of in terms of risk. Sad, because once you get lymphedema, there is no cure. You are then into lifetime management.
Lymphedema is a risk for any cancer surgery, in particular those where lymph nodes are involved. This means breast cancer, head & neck cancers, prostate, ovarian, uterine. When lymph nodes are disturbed or taken out, lymph fluid flow becomes obstructed at this point. When pressure is exerted on the limb in question (arm, leg or torso, even upper shoulder area), the fluid backs up causing swelling. I go into this in more detail here.
If you already have lymphedema, compression garments are prescribed and need to be worn during activity, at night, and depending on your situation, during the day as well. As a preventative measure, it’s advised to wear a prevention compression sleeve when flying. Mine is always in my bag, donned in the airport and taken off when I have picked up my bags.
Please do yourself a favor and get informed. It will make a huge difference to you. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting lymphedema. You just need to know what they are.
Over the years, I’ve heard many people talk about the length of time it takes to wrap their arm (or leg) for the night or during active therapy. In fact, if you go to this video, a breast cancer survivor shares her experience with wrapping. It is time consuming.
Is there another way? Yes! There are several solutions by different manufacturers which involve an inner sleeve with outer sleeves that offer compression and use velcro straps for ease of donning. For someone who struggles with mobility which is often the case especially right after surgery, these are a godsend.
Another use of the compression garments is for those that are in active therapy to reduce the swelling. This the stage when bandaging is the option until the swelling has stabilized. At this point, the therapist is able to write a prescription for a compression sleeve which can then be worn in place of the bandaging.
Lymphedema is never an easy side effect of cancer treatment, but more and more, there are ways to make this situation easier and more fashionable, if one can even imagine wearing a compression sleeve as fashionable. And this applies to other extremities as well, such as the leg and the torso.
This was news to me. I had always heard about lymphedema in a limb whether it was an arm or a leg. But I had never understood that lymphedema could also present itself in the torso – and even in the neck region.
In this instance, compression sleeves – arm sleeves or stockings – won’t work. What is needed is a compression camisole – similar to the Spanx garments available. There is a difference though. Spanx is one level of compression. Compression garments have graduated compression that moves the flow of lymph along the body.
You can get bras that are also compression bras with a torso section rather than a band. This again will help you move the flow of lymph along relieving any swelling. There are also compression vests that will work the same way.
Please note that proper diagnosis and treatment is highly recommended for any sign of lymphedema from a qualified lymphedema specialist and/or oncologist. A prescription is required with the proper compression levels indicated, especially if you are claiming the cost on a medical plan. The earlier you identify the problem, the better your chance of reducing the severity of the lyphedema and thereby it’s impact on your lifestyle.
Are we saying ‘prevent’ lymphedema – no. We’re saying ‘reduce your risk’. There are many ways you can do this. Awareness that lymphedema can happen to you at any time after your cancer treatment is a start.
It’s been 23 years at time of writing, and I still am careful to take the following steps to give myself an edge in reducing my risk of getting lymphedema. It doesn’t pay to ignore the possibility it can happen to you.
- Keep your affected limb clean. If you get a scratch, insect bite, anything that might make you susceptible to infection, use a disinfectant immediately.
- Be aware when lifting heavy objects. Anything over 15 lbs. can create undue pressure, especially if you have an arm or torso at risk.
- Wear a preventive compression sleeve when you travel by air. I always have mine and wear it. Not only does it help me while in flight, it also reminds me to be careful when I lift my baggage off the baggage rack.
- Exercise – keep the lymph fluid moving – gentle exercise.
These are just a few tips. For more details about lymphedema, get your Free Report here.
I’ve heard this said several times, mostly because there is so much information out there about breast cancer – lymphedema is about breast cancer. NOT ONLY!
Lymphedema can happen to those going through any surgeries that affect the lymph nodes in the groin or areas in the abdomen. Men who have had prostate or colon surgery get lymphedema in their legs. Women who have had ovarian, colon, or cervical cancer are also at risk. This condition requires wearing compression stockings – at the very least, compression socks.
It is often wise to wear a compression garment as prevention for sport related activities, air travel, and/or occasions when a person has to stand for a long time.
Having two legs of different sizes creates a whole host of issues I’m sure anyone would want to avoid. Take precautions early. Read our free report for tips and information.
The Cancer Help Blog took a sabbatical – time to think through priorities and in the process, we have returned with more information, a site overhaul, and a new online magazine – the Cancer Help Hub. We look forward to your feedback.
So, my pet peeve is Lymphedema. It seems that time has not made any major impact in how this information is shared. The sad thing is that with information up front, there are ways to reduce the risk of getting lymphedema and avoid lymphedema treatment which will be ongoing. There is no cure for lymphedema. AND NO MATTER HOW LONG AGO YOU HAD TREATMENT – YOU ARE STILL AT RISK!!!!
Wouldn’t you want to know, especially when lymphedema means having to wear compression garments for the rest of your life? I know that I take care because I don’t want this to happen to me.
If you are not sure how this may impact your life – download your FREE report ‘The OVERLOOKED and UNDER-ADVISED MAJOR RISK OF CANCER TREATMENT TODAY’. You will be amazed!
Going through cancer treatment – surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – is a challenge in and of itself. What is often not known upfront are some of the side effects that accompany these treatments. Preparing ahead of time can help you create coping strategies and reduce the stress.
1. Lymphedema – this can happen after node dissection – either upper body or lower body. Once lymph nodes are removed, the lymph transit system is impaired causing a backlog of fluid which creates uncomfortable swelling. Taking precautions to reduce your risk of getting lymphedema are critical as there is no cure – only management.
2. Early Menopause – this can be triggered by chemotherapy. For some, regular periods come back, but for most, they do not. Since hormone replacement therapy is not advised for breast cancer patients, finding suitable herbal solutions can help. Also, look for wicking clothing – wicking nightwear and daywear – to alleviate some of the discomfort of sweating with the accompanying chill afterwards.
3. Fatigue – exercise is the antidote. As strange as it may sound, exercising will help you increase oxygen uptake, increase blood flow, reduce your risk of lymphedema and elevate self-esteem. Something as simple as a brisk walk. Or, join an exercise class with a group that understands your cancer needs – Healthy-Steps. Find a buddy to join you, especially for the days you don’t feel like getting out there.
You will get through this time much easier with some thought to coping with cancer ahead of time.
The issue of lymphedema as a risk resulting from cancer surgery is still not always discussed. Since my cancer diagnosis in 1990, you would think this would have improved. It has to a small degree, but still there is much that is not shared.
One of these concerns is the risk of lymphedema due to the pressurization of the plane cabin when flying. Since winter heralds flocks of snowbirds and those of us tired of snow and sleet to warmer climates, I wanted to make sure you were aware and knew what to do.
Please invest in a lower compression (preventive) lymphedema sleeve. Wear it on the flight and make sure you also get a gauntlet (glove) with it. Some lymphedema sleeves have the gauntlet as part of the garment. Not only will the sleeve moderate the pressure on your arm, but will also remind you to be mindful when lifting your luggage as heavy lifting is also a risk factor.
Prevention is key. Once you are diagnosed with lymphedema, it will be a lifelong commitment of maintenance. Better to prevent if at all possible – at least reduce the risk by being aware.
These two words are not always associated together when wearing a lymphedema sleeve as they are normally flesh toned to blend in rather than stand out.
Some manufacturers have come to realize that some women want to make a fashion statement – or just a statement. Now you can see lymphedema sleeves in solid colors and even fancier ones with patterns to suit your outfit, mood or occasion.
One manufacturer has designed sleeves that are lighter weight but still have the same compression, are made of wicking fabric for summer or hot weather wear, and come in many fabulous patterns.
If you already have lymphedema, you will know what I am speaking about. You might as well make the best of a now lifelong management plan and have some fun. Enjoy exploring new options.
Exercise plays a key role in both reducing the risk of lymphedema as well as the management of lymphedema.
Lymphedema is caused by an interruption or restriction in the flow of lymph fluid following surgery. Most people are aware of arm lymphedema caused by breast cancer surgery, but leg lymphedema can be a side effect of prostate or abdominal surgeries. Torso lymphedema can happen from neck and throat surgeries.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of lymphedema, however, exercise for lymphedema is extremely helpful and well documented by research.
Here are some important things to remember when exercising:
- Open the lymphatic system first. The lymphatic drains are located by your throat and will allow the flow of lymph fluid which will increase with the exercise. The Healthy-Steps program (formerly The Lebed Method) has a wonderful Lymphatic Opening exercise and program for those who may be at risk for lymphedema.
- Make sure the exercise movements are slow to medium speed and smooth flowing versus jerky. After surgery, especially if lymph nodes have been removed, the lymphatic transport system will be compromised and could become congested if the flow of lymph fluid is too fast. Think of a superhighway where the traffic is rerouted from four lanes to one lane.
- Wear proper compression garments which are designed to assist the flow of lymph fluid (i.e. lymphedema sleeve) during exercise if you already have lymphedema. This includes the gauntlet (glove) to ensure the build up of fluid does not travel to the hand.