When you or someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, there will inevitably be a myriad of questions that immediately come to mind. It used to be that reliable information about the diseases and their symptoms was hard-to-come-by, but the internet has changed that. Now you can find a wealth of useful, qualified information to help you understand cancer.
Of course, the internet is just one of many resources at your disposal. Several books coping with cancer are available as well and offer insight and advice for combating the disease. You may also consider enrolling in a support group in your community or taking part in online cancer help organizations.
This past Monday, I had occasion to attend the Lymphedema Conference organized by the Alberta Lymphedema Association. The guest speaker I heard was Dr. Andrea L. Cheville, Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. Dr. Cheville explained the anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology of lymphedema in clear laymen terms. Over 300 people attended – doctors, nurses, caregivers, suppliers and most importantly, those with lymphedema.
Finally, someone is speaking out about lymphedema and what it truly means for those who either are born with lymphdema (primary) or develop lymphedema from trauma such as cancer surgery (secondary).
If you have an opportunity to attend a similar conference in your area, I highly recommend you go and take as many people with you as are interested. In the United States, you can contact the National Lymphedema Network for associations in your area.
As the second most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst women, it is easy to see why many people believe that the disease is exclusive to females. In fact, breast cancer also afflicts men. For reasons unbeknownst to doctors, breast cancer rates have seen a decline in recent years. However, the threat of the disease is still very real.
One of the keys to combating breast cancer is early diagnosis. Luckily, people can perform their own screening to help detect the disease in its preliminary stages. Usual symptoms of breast cancer include a lump or thickening of tissue in the breast area, change in the size or shape of the breast, and peeling or flaking of the skin around the nipple. A mastectomy is often necessary to thwart the disease, and several breast cancer products allow women who have undergone the procedure to maintain their appearance.
There are some indicators that you might have the start of lymphedema. If caught early, you can reduce the severity and sometimes reverse lymphedema as I’ve seen a few times with my students.
Signs and Symptoms:
1. Any feeling of fullness in the limb and sometimes in the chest wall.
2. Skin feeling snug or tight
3. Swelling in the fingers or hand – rings are suddenly too tight or wrist bands of sweaters, a watch or bracelet feel uncomfortable
4. Loss of flexibility in the wrist or hand
It is very important to get immediate attention if you notice any of the above symptoms or have persistent swelling. Find a qualified lymphedema specialist (i.e. Vodder certified) in your area and have your condition assessed. Quick action and attention will greatly reduce the severity of the condition.
Once diagnosed, you will be given a treatment plan which might include an initial bandaging stage and later a fitted lymphedema sleeve. If you are in a more rural area without these resources, there are ready-to-wear lymphedema or compression sleeves available.
For those who have had abdominal cancer surgeries which affect the lymph nodes in the groin, lymphedema can affect your lower limbs – same symptoms as above. This often happens to men who have had prostate cancer.
Lymphedema is still not widely understood or acknowledged as a risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. There are guidelines for prevention if known beforehand. The sad thing is that once a person gets lymphedema, there is no cure. So, prevention is key.
So, what is Lymphedema. Here is an excellent video explaining exactly what lymphedema is.
A verbal definition of lymphedema, as stated by the National Lymphedema Network, is:
“Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial tissue that causes swelling, most often in the arm(s) and/or leg(s), and occasionally in other parts of the body. Lymphedema can develop when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired (primary), or when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes removed (secondary).
When the impairment becomes so great that the lymphatic fluid exceeds the lymphatic transport capacity, an abnormal amount of protein-rich fluid collects in the tissues of the affected area. Left untreated, this stagnant, protein-rich fluid not only causes tissue channels to increase in size and number, but also reduces oxygen availability in the transport system, interferes with wound healing, and provides a culture medium for bacteria that can result in lymphangitis (infection).”
Lymphedema can occur in the upper and lower extremities (arms and legs – and even torso). You are at risk if you have had surgery for cancer that involves removal of lymph nodes. For more detailed information, read the following books about Lymphedema.
Over the next few posts, I will be covering some the issues related to lymphedema and cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have had to face the very real possibility of a mastectomy. And if you’ve actually undergone this surgery, you are certainly familiar with the ramifications of this procedure. Of course, health and personal well-being are the number one concern. However the loss of one or both of your breasts brings up issues of physical body balance, self-image, and self-esteem.
Fortunately, there are products to overcome some of these issues, including breast prosthesis. Breast prosthesis generally come in the form of a mastectomy bra, which can mask the loss of either one or both breasts. Women have responded positively to these products because they create a natural look, even under clinging clothing.